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The Political Economy 
of the Mass Media 




With a new introduction by the authors 

Pantheon Books, New York 

The Iran-contra scandals were blamed on the President's easygoing 
habits, though the people had every opportunity to know this was his 
way of doing things or not doing before they put him in the White 
House, not once but twice. 

James Reston 

They who have put out the people's eyes, reproach them of their 

John Milton 


Introduction xi 
Preface lix 

A Propaganda Model 1 

Worthy and Unworthy Victims 37 

Legitimizing versus Meaningless Third World Elections: 
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua 87 

The KGB -Bulgarian Plot to Kill the Pope: Free-Market 
Disinformation as "News" 143 

The Indochina Wars (I): Vietnam 169 

The Indochina Wars (II): Laos and Cambodia 253 

Conclusions 297 

Appendix 1 

The U.S. Official Observers in Guatemala, July 1-2, 1984 309 


Appendix 2 

Tagliabue's Finale on the Bulgarian Connection: 
A Case Study in Bias 313 

Appendix 3 

Braestrup's Big Story: Some "Freedom House Exclusives" 321 

Notes 331 
Index 395 


Mainstream Madid Usage of "Genocide" for Kosovo, East Timor, 
Turkey, and Iraq xxi 

I-I Financial Data for Twenty-four Large Media Corporations 
(or Their Parent Firms), December 1986 6 

1-2 Wealth of the Control Groups of Twenty-four Large Media 

Corporations (orTheiT Parent Companies), February 1986 9 

1-3 Affiliations ofthe Outside Directors of Ten Large Media 
Companies (or Their Parents) in 1986 11 

1- 4 Experts on Terrorism and Defense on the "McNeil-Lehrer News 

Hour," January 14, 1985, to January 27, 1986 25 

2- 1 Mass-Media Coverage ofWorthy and Unworthy Victims(l): 

A Murdered Polish Priest versus One Hundred Murdered 
Religious in Latin America 40 

2-2 The Savageries Inflicted on Worthy and Unworthy Victims, 
as Depicted in the A^ew V&r^; r/mes 45 

2- 3 Mass-Media Coverage ofWorthy and Unworthy Victims (2): 

A Murdered Polish Priest versus Two Murdered Officials ofrhe 
Guatemalan Mutual Support Group 84 

3- 1 Topics Included and EXcluded in the New York Times's Coverage 

ofthe Salvadoran Election ofMarch 25, 1984 132 

3-2 Topics Included and Excluded in the New York Times's Coverage 
ofthe Nicaraguan Election Planned for November 4i 1984 134 

3-3 Topics Included and Excluded in the New York Times's 

Coverage ofthe Nicaraguan Election of November 4j 1984 135 


model," an analytical framework that attempts to explain the perform- 
ance of the U.S. media in terms of the basic institutional structures and 
relationships within which they operate. It is our view that, among their 
other functions, the media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the 
powerful societal interests that control and finance them. The represen- 
tatives of these interests have important agendas and principles that they 
want to advance, and they are well positioned to shape and constrain 
media policy. This is normally not accomplished by crude intervention, 
but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors' and 
working journalists' internalization of priorities and definitions of news- 
worthiness that conform to the institution's policy. 

Structural factors are those such as ownership and control, depend- 
ence on other major funding sources (notably, advertisers), and mutual 
interests and relationships between the media and those who make the 
news and have the power to define it and explain what it means. The 
propaganda model also incorporates other closely related factors such 
as the ability to complain about the media's treatment of news (that is, 
produce "flak"), to provide "experts" to confirm the official slant on the 
news, and to fix the basic principles and ideologies that are taken for 
granted by media personnel and the elite, but are often resisted by the 
general population, i In our view, the same underlying power sources that 
own the media and fund them as advertisers, that serve as primary defin- 
ers of the news, and that produce flak and proper-thinking experts, also 
playa key role in fixing basic principles and the dominant ideologies. 
We believe that what journalists do, what they see as newsworthy, and 
what they take for granted as premises of their work are frequently well 
explained by the incentives, pressures, and constraints incorporated into 
such a structural analysis. 


These structural factors that dominate media operations are not all- 
controlling and do not always produce simple and homogeneous results. 
It is well recognized, and may even be said to constitute a part of an insti- 
tutional critique such as we present in this volume, that the various parts 
of media organizations have some limited autonomy, that individual and 
professional values influence media work, that policy is imperfectly en- 
forced, and that media policy itself may allow some measure of dissent 
and reporting that calls into question the accepted viewpoint. These con- 
siderations all work to assure some dissent and coverage of inconvenient 
facts. ~ The beauty of the system, however, is that such dissent and incon- 
venient information are kept within bounds and at the margins, so that 
while their presence shows that the system is not monolithic, they are 
not large enough to interfere unduly with the domination of the official 

It should also be noted that we are talking about media structure and 
performance, not the effects of the media on the public. Certainly, the 
media's adherence to an official agenda with little dissent is likely to 
influence public opinion in the desired direction, but this is a matter of 
degree, and where the public's interests diverge sharply from that of the 
elite, and where they have their own independent sources of information, 
the official line may be widely doubted. The point that we want to stress 
here, however, is that the propaganda model describes forces that shape 
what the media does; it does not imply that any propaganda emanating 
from the media is always effective. 

Although now more than a dozen years old, both the propaganda 
model and the case studies presented with it in the first edition of this 
book have held up remarkably welJ.3 The purpose of this new Introduc- 
tion is to update the model, add some materials to supplement the case 
studies already in place (and left intact in the chapters that follow), and 
finally, to point out the possible applicability of the model to a number of 
issues under current or recent debate. 


The propaganda model, spelled out in detail in chapter t, explains the 
broad sweep of the mainstream media's behavior and performance by 
theiT corporate character and integration into the political economy of 
the dominant economic system. For this reason, we focused heavily on 
the rise in scale of media enterprise, the media's gradual centralization 


and concentration, the growth ofmedia conglomerates that control many 
different kinds of media (motion picture studios, TV networks, cable 
channels, magazines, and book publishing houses), and the spread of the 
media across borders in a globalization process. We also noted the grad- 
ual displacement of family control by professional managers serving a 
wider array ofow-Tiers and more dosefy subject to market discipline. 

All of these trends, and greater competition for advertising across 
media boundaries, have continued and strengthened over the past dozen 
years, making for an intensified bottom-line orientation. Thus, cen- 
tralization of the media in a shrinking number of very large firms has 
accelerated, virtually unopposed by Republican and Democratic admin- 
istrations and regulatory authority. Ben Bagdikian notes that when the 
first edition of his Media Monopoly was published in 1983, fifty giant 
firms dominated almost every mass medium; but just seven years later, in 
1990, only twenty-three firms occupied the same commanding position. 

Since 1990, a wave of massive deals and rapid globalization have 
left the media industries further centralized in nine transnational con- 
glomerates-Disney, AOL Time Warner, Viacom (owner of CBS), News 
Corporation, Bertelsmann, General Electric (owner of NBC), Sony, 
AT&T-Liberty Media, and Vivendi Universal. These giants own all the 
world's major film studios, TV networks, and music companies, and a 
sizable fraction of the most important cable channels, cable systems, 
magazines, major-market TV stations, and book publishers. The largest, 
the recently merged AOL Time Warner, has integrated the leading Inter- 
net portal into the traditional media system. Another fifteen firms round 
out the system, meaning that two dozen firms control nearly the entirety 
ofmedia experienced by most U.S. citizens. Bagdikian concludes that "it 
is the overwhelming collective power of these firms, with their corporate 
interlocks and unified cultural and political values, that raises troubling 
questions about the individual's role in the American democracy. "5 

Of the nine giants that now dominate the media universe, all but Gen- 
eral Electric have extensively conglomerated within the media, and are 
important in both producing content and distributing it. Four ofthem- 
Disney, AOL Time Warner, Viacom, and News Corporation-produce 
movies, books, magazines, newspapers, TV programs, music, videos, 
toys, and theme parks, among other things; and they have extensive dis- 
tribution facilities via broadcasting and cable ownership, retail stores, 
and movie-theater chains. They also provide news and occasional inves- 
tigative reports and documentaries that address political issues, but the 
leaders of these pop-cultural behemoths are mainly interested in enter- 
tainment, which produces large audiences with shows like ABC TV's 


Who V^nts to Be a Millionaire and CBS-TV's Survivor^ or with movies 
like Disney's Lion King that also make possible the cross-selling "syner- 
gies" that are a focal point oftheir attention and resources. 

Important branches of the media such as movies and books have had 
substantial global msrKets for many years> but only in the past two 
decades has a global media system come into being that is having major 
effects on national media systems, culture, and politics.^ It has been 
fueled by the globaiization of business more generally, the associated 
rapid growth of global advertising, and improved communications tech- 
nology that has facilitated cross-border operations and control. It has 
also been helped along by government policy 3Dd the consolidation of 
neoliberal ideology. The United States and other Western governments 
have pressed the interests of their home-country firms eager to expand 
abroad, and the Internstional Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank 
have done the same, striving with considerable success to enlarge trans- 
national corporate access to media markets across the globe. Neoliberal 
ideology has provided the intellectual rationale for policies that have 
opened up the ownership of broadcasting stations and cable and satellite 
systems to private transnational invest 01$. 

The culture and ideology fostered in this globalization process relate 
largely to "lifestyle" themes and goods and their acquisition; and they 
tend to weaken any sense of community helpful to civic life. Robert 
McChesney notes that "the hallmark of the global media system is its 
relentless, ubiquitous commercialism."? Shopping channels, "infomer- 
cials," aild product placement are booming in the global media system. 
McChesney adds that "it should come as no surprise that account after 
account in the late 1990$ documents the fascination, even the obsession, 
of the world's middle class youth with consumer brands and products. "8 
The global media's "news" attenrion in recent years, aside from reporting 
on crusades such as "Operation Allied Force" (the NATO war against 
Yugoslavia) and on national elections, has been inordinately directed to 
sensationalism, as in their obsessive focus on the O. J, Simpson trial, the 
Lewinsky scandal, and the deaths of two of the West's supercelebrities. 
Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr. 

Globalization, along with deregulation and national budgetary pres- 
sures, has also helped reduce the importance of noncommercial media 
in country after country. This has been especially important in Europe 
and Asia, where public broadcasting systems were dominant (in contrast 
with the United States and Latin America). The fmancial pressures on 
public broadcasters has forced them to shrink or emulate the commercial 
systems in fund-raising and programming, and some have been fully 



commercialized by policy change or privatization. The global balance of 
power has shifted decisively toward commercial systems. James Ledbet- 
ter points out that in the United States, under incessant right-wing polit- 
ical pressure and fmancial stringency, "the 90s have seen a tidal wave of 
commercialism overtake public broadcasting," with public broadcasters 
"rushing as fast as they can to merge their services with those offered by 
commercial networks. "9 And in the process of what Ledbetter calls the 
"mailing" of public broadcasting, its already modest differences from the 
commercial networks have almost disappeared. Most important, in their 
programming "they share either the avoidance or the defanging of con- 
temporary political controversy, the kind that would bring trouble from 
powerful patrons. "10 

Some argue that the Internet and the new communications technolo- 
gies arc breaking the corporate stranglehold on journalism and opening 
an unprecedented era of interactive democratic media. And it is true 
and important that the Internet has increased the efficiency and scope 
of individual and group networking. This has enabled people to escape 
the mainstream media's constraints in many and diverse cases. Japanese 
women have been able to tap newly created Web sites devoted to their 
problems, where they can talk and share experiences and information 
with their peers and obtain expert advice on business, fmancial, and per- 
sonal matters, r Chiapas resisters against abuse by the Mexican army and 
government were able to mobilize an international support base in 1995 
to help them publicize their grievances and put pressure on the Mexican 
government to change its policies in the region. 12 The enlarged ability of 
Bolivian peasants protesting against World Bank privatization programs 
and user fees for water in 2000, and Indonesian students taking to the 
streets against the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia in 1998, to commu- 
nicate through the Internet produced a level of publicity and global 
attention that had important consequences: Bechtel Corporation, owner 
of the newly privatized water system in Bolivia that had quickly doubled 
water rates, backed off and the privatization sale was rescinded; the pro- 
tests and associated publicity, along with the 1998 fmanciaJ crisis, helped 
drive Suharto from office. 

Broader protest movements have also benefited from Internet-based 
communication. When the leading members of the World Trade Organi- 
zation (WTO) attempted in 1998 to push through in secret a Multilateral 
Agreement on Invesnnent that would have protected further the rights of 
international investors as against the rights of democratic bodies within 
states, the Internet was extremely valuable in alerting opposition forces 
to the threat and helping mobilize an opposition that prevented accept- 


ance of this agreement.''' Similarly, in the protest actions against the 
^XTO meetings in Seattle in November 1999 and the IMF and World 
Bank annual gatherings in Washington, D.C., in April 2000, communi- 
cation via the Internet played an important role both in organizing the 
protests and in disseminating information on the events themselves that 
countered the mainstream me-dia's hostile portrayal of these protests . 

However, although the Internet has been a valuable addition to the 
communications arsenal of dissidents and protesters, it has limitations as 
a critical tool. Foi one thing, iho&e whose information needs are most 
acute are not well served by the Internet-many lack access, its databases 
are not designed to meet their needs, and the use of databases (and effec- 
tive use of the Internet in general) presupposes knowledge and organiza- 
tion. The Internet is not an instrument of mass communication for those 
lacking brand names, an. already existing large audience, andlor large re- 
sources. Only sizable commercial organizations have been able to make 
large numbers aware of the existence of their Internet offerings. The 
privatization of the Internet's hardware, the rapid commercialization 
and concentration of Internet portals and servers and their integration 
into non-Internet conglomerates-the AOL-Time Warner merger was a 
giant step in that direction-and the private and concentrated control 
of the new broadband technology, together threaten to limit any future 
prospects of the Internet as a democratic media vehicle. 

The past few years have witnessed a rapid penetration of the Internet 
by the leading newspapers and media conglomerates, all fearful of being 
outflanked by small pioneer users of the new technology, and willing 
(and able) to accept losses for years while testing out these new waters. 
Anxious to reduce these losses, however, and with advertisers leery ofthe 
value of spending in a medium characterized by excessive audience con- 
trol and rapid surfing, the large media entrants into the Internet have 
gravitated to making familiar compromises-more attention to selling 
goods, cutting back on news, and providing features immediately attrac- 
tive to audiences and advertisers. The Boston Globe (a subsidiary ofthe 
New York Times) and the Washington Post are offering e-commerce goods 
and services; and Ledbetter notes that "it's troubling that none of the 
newspaper portals feels that quality journalism is at the center of its strat- 
egy because journalism doesn't help you sell rhings."16 Former New 

York Times editor Max Frankel says that the more newspapers pursue 
Internet audiences, "the more will sex, sports, violence, and comedy 
appear on their menus, slighting, if not altogether ignoring, the news of 
foreign wars orwelfare reform. "17 

New technologies are mainly introduced to meet corporate needs, and 


those of recent years have permitted media firms to shrink staff even as 
they achieve greater outputs, and they have made possible global distri- 
bution systems that reduce the number of media entities. The audience 
"interaction" facilitated by advancing interactive capabilities mainly help 
audience members to shop, but they also allow media firms to collect 
detailed information on their audiences, and thus to fine-tune program 
features and ads to individual characteristics as well as to sell by a click 
during programs. Along with reducing privacy, this should intensify com- 

In short, the changes in politics and communication over the past 
dozen years have tended on balance to enhance the applicability of the 
propaganda model. The increase in corporate power and global reach, 
the mergers and further centralization of the media, and the decline of 
public broadcasting, have made bottom-line considerations more influ- 
ential both in the United States and abroad. The competition for adver- 
tising has become more intense and the boundaries between editorial 
and advertising departments have weakened further. Newsrooms have 
been more thoroughly incorporated into transnational corporate em- 
pires, with budget cuts and a further diminution of management enthusi- 
asm for investigative journalism that would challenge the structures of 

Over the past dozen years, sourcing and flak have also strengthened as 
mechanisms of elite influence. Media centralization and the reduction in 
the resources devoted to journalism have made the media more depend- 
ent than ever on the primary defmers who both make the news and subsi- 
dize the media by providing accessible and cheap copy_ They now have 
greater leverage over the media, and the public relations firms working 
for these and other powerful interests also bulk larger as media sources. 
Alex Carey, Stuart Ewen, John Stauber, and Sheldon Rampton have 
helped us see how the public relations industry has been able to utilize 
journalistic conventions to serve its-and its corporate clients'-ends. 
Studies of news sources reveal that a significant proportion of news origi- 
nates in public relations releases. There are, by one count, 20,000 more 
public relations agents working to doctor the news today than there are 
journalists writing il. 

The force of anti-communist ideology has possibly weakened with the 
collapse of the Soviet Union and the virtual disappearance of socialist 
movements across the globe, but this is easily offset by the greater ideo- 
logical force of the belief in the "miracle ofthe market" (Reagan). The 
triumph of capitalism and the increasing power of those with an interest 
in privatization and market rule have strengthened the grip of market 


ideology, at least among the elite, so that regardless of evidence, markets 
are assumed to be benevolent and even democratic ("market populism" 
in Thomas Frank's phrase) and nonmarket mechanisms are suspect, al- 
though exceptions are allowed when private firms need subsidies, bail- 
outs, and government help in doing business abroad. When the Soviet 
economy stagnated in the 1980s, it was attributed to the absence of mar- 
kets; when capitalist Russia disintegrated in the 1990s, this was blamed 
not on the now ruling market but on politicians' and workers' failMie to 
let markets work their magic. 20 Journalism has internalized this ideology. 
Adding it to the residual power of anticommunism in a world in which 
the global power of market institutions makes nonmarket options seem 
Utopian gives us an ideological package ofimmense strength. 

These changes, which have strengthened the applicability ofthe prop- 
aganda model, have seriously weakened the "public sphere," which refers 
to the array ofplaces and forums in which matters important to a demo- 
cratic community are debated and information relevant to intelligent cit- 
izen participation is provided. The steady advance, and cultural power, of 
marketing and advertising has caused "the displacement of a political 
public sphere by a depoliticized consumer culture. "21 And it has had 
the effect of creating a world of virtual communities built by advertisers 
and based on demographics and taste differences of consumers. These 
consumption- and style-based clusters are at odds with physical commu- 
nities that share a social life and common concerns and which participate 
in a democratic order. 22 These virtual communities are organized to buy 
and sell goods, not to create or service a public sphere. 

Advertisers don't like the public sphere, where audiences are relatively 
small, upsetting controversy takes place, and the settings are not ideal 
for selling goods. Their preference for entertainment underlies the grad- 
ual erosion of the public sphere under systems of commercial media, 
well exemplified in the history of broadcasting in the United States over 
the past seventy-five years. ^3 But entertainment has the merit not only 
of being better suited to helping sell goods; it is an effective vehicle for 
hidden ideological messages. Furthermore, in a system of high and 
growing inequality, entertainment is the contemporary equivalent of 
the Roman "games of the circus" that diverts the public from politics 
and generates a political apathy that is helpful to preservation ofthe sta- 
tus quo. 

It would be a mistake to conclude from the fact that the public buys 
and watches the offerings of the increasingly commercialized media 
that the gradual erosion ofthe public sphere reflects the preferences and 
free choices ofthe public either as citizens or consumers. The citizenry 


was never given the opportunity to approve or disapprove the wholesale 
transfer of broadcasting rights to commercial interests back in 19341^^ 
and the pledge made by those interests, and subsequently by the Federal 
Communications Commission (FCC) itself, that public service offerings 
would never be buried in favor of the entertainment preferred by adver- 
tisers, was never fulfilled. 26 The public is not sovereign over the media- 
the owners and managers, seeking ads, decide what is to be offered, and 
the public must choose among these. People watch and read in good part 
on the basis of what is readily available and intensively promoted. Polls 
regularly show that the public would like more news, documentaries, and 
other information, and less sex, violence, and other entertainment, even 
as they do listen to and watch the latter. There is little reason to believe 
that they would not like to understand why they are working harder with 
stagnant or declining incomes, have inadequate medical care at high 
costs, and what is being done in their name all over the world. If they are 
not getting much information on these topics, the propaganda model can 
explain why: the sovereigns who control the media choose not to offer 
such material. 


In the case studies presented in chapters 2 through 6, we examine the dif- 
ferences in treatment of situations broadly similar in character, except for 
the political and economic interests at stake. Our expectation is that news 
as well as editorial opinion will be strongly influenced by those interests 
and should display a predictable bias. We would anticipate, for example, 
that an election held by a client-state government favored by U.S. offi- 
cials would be treated differently by the media than an election held by a 
government that U.S. officials oppose. It will be seen in chapter 3 that in 
the important elections analyzed there this dichotomous treatment and 
bias was displayed to an extraordinary degree. 

Worthy and Unworthy Victims 

In chapter 2, we compare the media's treatment of victims of enemy 
states and those of the United States and U.S. client states. Our predic- 
tion is that the victims of enemy states will be found "worthy" and wilJ 
be subject to more intense and indignant coverage than those victimized 


by the United Stales or h& clients, who are implicitly "unworthy." It is 
shown in chapter 2 that a 1984 victim of the Polish Communists, the 
priesT Jerzy Popieluszko, not only received far more coverage than Ajch- 
bishop Oscar Romero, murdered in the U.S. client-state El Salvador in 
1 980; he was given more coverage than the aggregate of one hundred reli- 
gious victims killed in U.S. client states, although eight of those victims 
were U.S. citizens. 

This bias is politically advantageous to U.S. policy-makers, for focus- 
ing on victims of enemy states shows those states to be wicked and 
deserving of U.S. hostility; while ignoring U.S. and client-state victims 
allows ongoing U.S. policies to proceed more easily, unburdened by the 
interference of concern over the politically inconvenient victims. It is not 
a credible reply that difficulty in getting evidence on "unworthy" victims 
can account for the application of such a gross double standard, as an 
alternative press with meager resources has been able to gather a great 
deal of material on their mistreatment from highly credible sources, such 
as major human rights organizations and church representatives. Fur- 
thermorCj only political factors can explain the differences in gua/j'ry of 
treatment of worthy and unworthy victims noted throughout this book, 
illustrated in chapter 2 by the more antiseptic reporting of the abuse of 
unworthy victims (even U.S. women raped and murdered in El Salvador) 
and the greater indignation and search for responsibility at the tOP m the 
case of worthy victims. 

That the same massive political bias displayed earlier in the coverage 
of Popieluszko and the hundred religious victims in Latin America con- 
tinues today is suggested by the media's usage of the word "genocide" in 
the 1990S, as shown in the accompanying table. "Genocide" is an invidi- 
ous word that officials apply readily to cases of victimization in enemy 
states, but rarely if ever to similar or worse cases of victimization by the 
United States itself or allied regimes. Thus, with Saddam Hussein and 
Iraq having been U.S. targets in the 1990s, whereas Turkey has been an 
ally and client and the United States its major arms supplier as it engaged 
in its severe ethnic cleansing of Kurds during those years, we find former 
U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith stating that "while Turkey represses its 
own Kurds, its cooperation is essential to an American-led mission to 
protect Iraq's Kurds from renewed genocide at the hands of Saddam 
Hussein. "28 Turkey's treatment of its Kurds was in no way less murder- 
ous than Iraq's treatment of Iraqi Kurds, but for Galbraith, Turkey only 
"represses," while Iraq engages in "genocide." 


Mainstream Media Usage 
of "Genocide" for 
Kosovo, East Timor, Turkey, and Iraq i 





1. SerbsJKosovo 
1998-1999 220 

2. IndonesialEast 


1990-1999 33 

3. Turkey/Kurds, 
1990-1999 14 


1990- 1999 132 
5. Iraq Sanctions, 

1991- 1999 18 

59 "8 41 

7 17 4 

2 8 I 

51 66 24 

1 10 1 

1. Mainstream media used in this tabulation, based on a Nexus database 
search, were the Los Angeles Times, the New Yink Times, Wbshingtori PoUy 
Neivsii^eek, and Time. 

2. The numbers in columns 2 and 3 do not add up to the total in column 1, 
which also includes letters, "World Briefmgs," and summary items. 

The table shows that the five major print media surveyed engage in a 
similar biased usage, frequently using "genocide" to describe victimiza- 
tion in the enemy states, but applying the word far less frequently to 
equally severe victimization carried out by the United States or its allies 
and clients. We can even read who are U.S. friends and enemies from the 
media's use of the word. Thus, with the United States and its NATO 
allies warring against Yugoslavia in 1999, aHegedJy in response to that 
country's mistreatment of the Kosovo Albanians, official denunciations 
of that mistreatment flowed through the media, along with the repeated 
designation of the abuses as "genocidal." The same pattern applies to the 
Iraqi regime's abuse of its Kurdish population-after it had ceased to be a 
U.S. ally29-an enemy state, official denunciations, harsh sanctions, and 
parallel media treatment. 



On the other hand, Turkey and Indonesia have long been U.S. alhes 
and client states and recipients of military and economic aid. In conse- 
quence, and Just as the propaganda model would predict, the media not 
only gave minimal attention to the severe abuse of the Kurds by Turkey 
throughout the 1990s, and to the Clinton administration's lavish help to 
Turkey's implementation of that ethnic-cleansing program, they rarely 
applied the word "genocide" to these Turkish operations. 

Similarly, the word was not often applied to the Indonesian mistreat- 
ment of the East Timorese, who were subjected to another wave of terror 
as Indonesia tried to prevent or defeat a U.N. -sponsored referendum on 
independence in 1999. The United States, after helping Suharto take 
power in 1965 in one of the great bloodbaths of the twentieth century,'^ 
and after supporting his dictatorship for thirty-two years, also gave him 
CiMcial military and diplomatic aid when he invaded and occupied East 
Timor from 1975.31 In 1999, as Indonesia attempted to prevent the in- 
dependence referendum in East Timor by violence, the United States 
maintained its military aid programs and refused to intervene to stop the 
killing} on the ground that what is happening "is the responsibility of the 
government of Indonesia, and we don't want to take that responsibility 
away from them" (as stated by Defense Secretary William Cohen in a 
press conference of September 8j 1999). This was long after Indonesia 
had killed thousands and destroyed much of East Timor. Shortly there- 
after, under considerable international pressure, the United States in- 
vited Indonesia to leave the devastated country. 

We have shown elsewhere that in 1975 and later the U.S. media treated 
the East Timorese as unworthy victims, saving their attention and indig- 
nation for the almost simultaneous killings under Pol Pot in Cambodia. 
The victims of Pol Pot, a Communist leader, were worthy, although after 
he was ousted by the Vietnamese in 1978, Cambodians ceased to be wor- 
thy, as U.S. policy shifted toward support of Pol Pot in exile. The East 
Timorese remained unworthy in the 1990S, as the table suggests. 

As the leader of the faction insisting on harsh sanctions against Iraq 
following the 1991 Persian GulfWar> the United States itself was respon- 
sible for a very large number of Iraqi civilians deaths in the 1990s. John 
and Karl Mueller assert that these "sanctions of mass destruction" have 
caused the deaths of "more people in Iraq than have been slain by all 
so-called weapons of mass destruction [nuclear and chemical] through- 
out all history."33 A large fraction of the million or more killed by sanc- 
tions were young children; UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy 
pointed out that "if the substantial reduction in child mortality through- 
out Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would 
have been half a million fewer deaths ofchildren under five in the country 


as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998. "34 However, as 
these deaths resulted from U.S. policy, and Secretary of State Madeleine 
Albright declared on national television that these child deaths 
were "worth it/'^* we would expect the U.S. media to find these victims 
unworthy, to give them little attention and less indignation, and to find 
the word "genocide" inapplicable to this case. The table shows that this 
expectation was realized in media practice. 

The case for severe media bias suggested by the usage of genocide 
shown in the table is strengthened by the fact that, despite the great 
media attention to and indignation over the abuse of the Kosovo Albani- 
ans by the Serbs in 1998-1999, this mistreatment was almost certainly 
less severe than that meted out to the Kurds in Turkey in the 19905 and 
to the East Timorese by the Indonesian army and paramilitary forces in 
East Timor in 1999. Deaths in Kosovo on all sides in the year before the 
NATO bombing were estimated by U.S. and other Western sources to 
number no more than 2,000, and the Serb assault and expulsions that 
followed and accompanied the NATO bombing campaign also appear to 
have resulted in deaths in the low thousands (an intensive postwar search 
for graves had yielded some 3,000 bodies by August 2000, not all of them 
Albanian civilians or necessarily victims of the Serbs). 36 Deaths in the 
Turkish war on the Kurds in the 1990S were estimated to be 30,000 or 
more, a large fraction Kurdish civilians, with refugee numbers running to 
2 to 3 million. In East Timor, where the Indonesian military organized 
and collaborated with a paramilitary opposition to a U.N. -sponsored in- 
dependence referendum held on August 30, 1999, an estimated 5,000 to 
6,000 East Timorese civilians were slaughtered even before the referen- 
dum vote that rejected Indonesian rule, which unleashed a furious In- 
donesian army-paramilitary assault on East Timorese. 

The double standard reflected in the politicized use of "genocide" is 
applicable to the treatment of news events more broadly, with the media 
regularly focusing on the abuse of worthy victims and playing down or 
neglecting altogether the plight of unworthy victims. As an illustration, 
we may consider the contrasting media treatment of the alleged killing of 
some forty Albanians by the Serbs at Racak, Kosovo, on January 15, 
1999, and the Indonesian army-militia killing of "up to 200" East Timo- 
rese atLiquica in East Timor on April 6, 1999,'* The former was seen as 
useful by U.S. officials,39 who were trying to ready the U.S. and Western 
publics for an imminent NATO attack on Yugoslavia. Although the facts 
in the Racak killings, which occurred in the course of fighting between 
the Serbian military and Kosovo Liberation Army insurgents within 
Yugoslavia, were and remain in dispute-and recent evidence raises fur- 
ther doubts about the NATO-KLA account of events there''0-the deaths 


were immediately denounced and featured by U.S. and NATO officials 
as an intolerable "massacre." The U.S. mainstream media did the same 
and gave this reported massacre heavy and uncritical attention. This 
helped create the moral basis for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia that 
began on March 24, 1999. 

The Liquica killings of East Timorese seeking refuge in a Catholic 
church by Indonesian-organized militia forces were indisputably a "mas- 
s acre ; ' apparently involved many more victims than at Racak, and it took 
place in a territory illegally occupied by a foreign state (Indonesia). It was 
also neither a unique event nor was it connected to any warfare, as in 
Kosovo— it was a straightforward slaughter of civilians. But U.S. officials 
did not denounce this massacre-in fact, active U.S. support of the In- 
donesian military continued throughout this period and up to a week 
after the referendum, by which time 85 percent of the population had 
been driven from their homes and well over 6,000 civilians had been 
slaughtered. The U.S. mainstream media followed the official lead. For 
a twelve-month period following the date of each event, the mentions 
of Racak by the five media entities cited in the table exceeded mentions 
of Liquica by 4.1 to i, and mentions of "massacre" at the two sites was 
in a ratio of 6.7 to i. The greater length of accounts of the Racak event 
elevates the ratio to 14 to 1 as measured by word count. Newsweek, 
which mentioned Racak and its "massacre" nine times, failed to mention 
Liquica once. 

Thus, with the cooperation of the media, the Racak killings were effec- 
tively used by U.S. officials to ready the public for war, not only by their 
intensive coverage but also by their taking the official allegations of mas- 
sacre at face value. In the same time frame, the media's treatment of the 
indisputable massacre at Liquica was insufficient in volume or indigna- 
tion to mobilize the public, in accord with the U.S. policy of leaving the 
management of events in East Timor to the U.S. ally Indonesia. 

Legitimating Versus IVIeaningless 
Third World Elections 

In chapter 3 we show that the mainstream media have followed a govern- 
ment agenda in treating elections in client and disfavored states. In El 
Salvador in the 1980s, the U.S. government sponsored several elections 
to demonstrate to the U.S. public that our intervention there was ap- 
proved by the local population; whereas when Nicaragua held an election 
in 1984, the Reagan administration tried to discredit it to prevent legiti- 


mation of a government the administration was trying to overthrow. The 
mainstream media cooperated, fmding the Salvadoran election a "step 
toward democracy" and the Nicaraguan election a "sham," despite the 
fact that electoral conditions were far more compatible with an honest 
election in Nicaragua than in EI Salvador. We demonstrate that the 
media applied a remarkable dual standard to the two elections in accord 
with the government's propaganda needs. 

This same bias is apparent in the press treatment of more recent elec- 
tions in Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and 
Uruguay. Cambodia and Yugoslavia were the only two of these seven 
ruled by a party strongly objectionable to U.S. policy-makers, and it is in 
these cases that the New York Times warned of serious problems: As re- 
gards Cambodia, it asserted that "flawed elections are worse than none," 
and that "the international community must proceed cautiously, lest a 
rigged election give Mr. Hun Sen a veneer oflegitimacy."42 In reporting 
on the Yugoslavian election of September 2000, in which US. officials 
intervened openly to prevent the reelection of Slobodan Milosevic, the 
Times and media in general repeatedly warned of the possibility of fraud 
and a rigged election. ^he case of Kenya, where US. policy toward 
the ruling government was ambivalent, here also the Times was skeptical 
of election quality, noting that "holding elections is not enough to assure 
democratic government" and stressing the need for "an independent 
electoral commission less bound to political parties" and "independent 
broadcast media, allowing opposition voices to be heard outside election 
periods. "44 

But in the other four elections, organized and won by governments 
strongly favored by the US. State Department, there were no suggestions 
that "flawed elections are worse than none" and no featuring of the threat 
of fraUd; the importance of an independent electoral commission and 
broadcast media was not pressed, and in each case the election was found 
to be a step toward democracy and hence legitimizing. 

In the case of Mexico, long subject to one party (PRJ) rule, but sup- 
ported by the U.S. government over the past several decades, the Times 
has regularly found the Mexican elections encouraging, in contrast with 
past fraudulent ones which, at the time, the editors also contrasted favor- 
ably with those in the more distant past! It has featured expressions of 
benevolent intent and downplayed structural defects and abuses. Thus, 
in its first editorial on the 1988 election that brought Carlos Salinas de 
Gortari to power, the Times noted that prior elections were corrupt (the 
PRI "manipulated patronage, the news media and the ballot box"), but it 
stressed that PRI candidate Salinas "comends" that political reform is 
urgent and "calls for clean elections, "45 The editors questioned whether 


"his party" will "heed his pleas," a process of distancing the favored can- 
didate from responsibility for any abuses to come. In the editorials that 
followed, the Times did not suggest possible ongoing electoral fraud, 
""manipulated patronage," or media controls and bias, although this elec- 
tion was famous for a convenient "computer breakdown" in the election 
aftermath, which turned Carlos Salinas from an expected loser into a 
winner. Just three years later, however, at the time of the 1991 election, 
the editors stated that "as long as anyone can remember, Mexican elec- 
tions have been massively fraudulent" as it prepared readers for new 
promises of a cleanup.46 But all through this period and later, the Times 
(and its media rivals) did not focus on fraud or call these elections rigged; 
in both news stories and editorials they portrayed these deeply flawed 
elections as steps toward democracy and legitimizing. 

In the 1983 Turkish election, held under military rule, with harsh 
censorship and only three parties "led by politicians sympathetic to the 
military government" allowed to run, the Times found that "Turkey Ap- 
proaches Democracy. "47 Similarly, in Uruguay's 1984 election, under 
another military regime that jailed the leading opposition candidate and 
also refused to allow a second major candidate to run, but organized by a 
government approved by the U.S. State Department, the Times once 
again found that "Uruguay is resuming its democratic vocation . . . the 
generals are yielding to the infectious resurgence of democracy in much 
of Latin America. "48 

The Russian election of 1996 was important to the United States and 
its allies, as Boris Yeltsin, the ruler who was carrying out their favored 
policies of privatization and the integration of Russia into the global 
financial system, was seriously threatened with defeat. The Yeltsin gov- 
ernment had presided over a 50 percent fall in national output and large 
income declines for 90 percent of the population, while the hugely 
corrupt privatization process provided windfalls to a small minority, in- 
cluding an important criminal class. The social welfare and health care 
systems had disintegrated under Yeltsin's rule, contributing to a startling 
rise in infectious diseases and mortality rates. Just before the 1996 elec- 
tion campaign, Yeltsin's popularity rating was 8 percent That he could 
win reelection in such circumstances suggests-and reflects-a seriously 
flawed election. 

However, with the Yeltsin regime strongly backed by the U.S. govern- 
ment and its Western allies, the New Yorii Times once again found this 
election "A Victory for Russian Democracy," and so did the U.S. main- 
stream media in general. For that paper of record, electoral flaws were 
slighted or ignored, and its editors declared the very fact of holding 
an "imperfect" election "a remarkable achievement. "49 The same bias 


was evident in reporting on the March 2000 Russian election, won by 
Yeltsin's anointed heir and former KGB operative Vladimir Putin. Putin 
had built his popularity by conducting a brutal counterinsurgency war 
against Chechnya, and his electoral success rested heavily on the fact that 
the powerful state TV and radio stations campaigned furiously on his 
behalf and denigrated and gave no broadcasting time to his opponents. 
A September 2000 expose of th«; Putin election campaign by the expatri- 
ate Moscow Times, based on a six-month investigative effort, uncovered 
compelling evidence of election fraud, including ballot stuffing, ballot 
destruction, and the creation of 1.3 million "dead souls" inflating the 
election rolls. 50 The U.S. mainstream media, however, never found any 
evidence of fraud at the time of the election, and they have been reluctant 
to report the findings of the Moscow Times Study.'' Putin is another "re- 
former," like Yeltsin, supported by the West, so that it follows once again 
that for the mainstream media a flawed ejection — hardly admitted to be 
flawed — remains better than none.s^ 

The KGB-Bulgarian Plot to 
Assassinate the Pope 

During the Reagan era (1981-88), there was a concerted effort to demo- 
nize the Soviet Union, in order to support a major arms buildup and a 
new, more aggressive policy in the Third World and globally. The Soviet 
Union was described as an "Evil Empire" and accused of sponsoring in- 
ternational terrorism as well as abusing its own and client-nation peo- 
ples. 53 \S7hen the would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca shot Pope John 
Paul II in Rome in May 1981, this provided the basis for one of the most 
successful propaganda campaigns of the Cold War era. 

Although the pope's assailant was a Turkish fascist and member of a 
violently anti-left party in Turkey, after a seventeen-month stint in an 
Italian prison Agca "confessed" that he had been hired by the KGB and 
Bulgarians. This confession was convenient, fitting well the interests of 
the dominant Italian parties anxious to discredit the powerful Italian 
Communist party as well as the Reagan administration's "Evil Empire" 
campaign. 1 1 was extremely suspicious for other reasons, coming so belat- 
edly, and after numerous visits to Agca by Italian secret service represen- 
tatives, judges, and papal agents, all with a political ax to grind, and with 
the secret service notorious for ideological extremism and willingness to 
doctor evidence. 54 

But the mainstream media accepted this story with astonishing gulli- 


bility-the possibility of coaching and pressure on Agca to name the 
KGB and Bulgarians, much discussed in the Italian media, was almost 
never mentioned as even a theoretical possibility. And the weakness of the 
alleged Soviet motive, the sheer stupidity of the enterprise if Soviet- 
based, and the complete lack of confirmatory evidence was almost en- 
tirely ignored by the media (as described in chapter 4). When the case 
was lost in an Italian court in 1986, despite a substantial Italian govern- 
ment investment and effort, for the U.S. mainstream media this merely 
reflected the peculiarities of the Italian system of justice; the continued 
absence of hard evidence led to no reassessment of the case or reflections 
on their own role. 

In the years that followed, two developments threw some light on the 
case. One is that the Soviet and Bulgarian archives were opened up, and 
Allen Weinstein of the Center for Democracy gained permission from 
Bulgarian authorities in 1991 for members of his investigative commis- 
sion to look at the Bulgarian Interior Ministry's secret service files. After 
a stint in Bulgaria, Weinstein returned home having failed to locate any 
confirmatory evidence of Bulgarian or KGB involvement. The Los Ange- 
les Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and Time, each of 
which had reported Weinstein's initiative and impending trip to Bulgaria 
in 1991, all failed to inform their readers ofhis negative fmdings. 

Later in 1991, at Senate hearings on the confirmation of Robert Gates 
as head of the CIA, former CIA officers Melvin Goodman and Harold 
Ford testified that the CIA's analysis of the Bulgarian Connection had 
been seriously compromised and politicized in support of the Reagan era 
anti-Soviet propaganda campaign. Goodman testified that not only had 
the CIA found no evidence of Soviet or Bulgarian involvement in the 
shooting, but that based on the CIA's "very good penetration of the Bul- 
garian secret services" its professionals had concluded that a Bulgarian 
Connection did not exist. 56 

This testimony, which was a brutal coup de grace to the claims of a 
connection, put the media on the spot. It was now clear that in their 
enthusiastic support of the plot they had seriously misled their readers 
and performed badly as news purveyors and analysts, although serving 
well the propaganda needs of their government. But as in 1986, after 
the case against the Bulgarians was dismissed in an Italian court for in- 
sufficient evidence, none of them felt any obligation to explain their fail- 
ures and apologize to their readers. They reported the CIA revelations 
tersely, with some still claiming that while the connection had not been 
proved it had not been disproved either (ignoring the frequent impos- 
sibility of proving a negative)." But in general the mainstream media 



moved quickly on without reassessing their performance or the fact that 
they and their media colleagues had been agents of propaganda. 

The New York Times, which had been consistently supportive of the 
connection in both news and editorials, not only failed to report Wein- 
stein's negative findings from the search of the Bulgarian files, it also 
excluded Goodman's statement on the CIA's penetration of the Bulgar- 
ian secret services from their excerpts from his testimony. The Times had 
long maintained that the CIA and the Reagan administration "recoiled 
from the devastating implication that Bulgaria's agents were bound to 
have acted only on a signal from Moscow. "58 But Goodman's and Ford's 
testimony showed that this was the reverse of the truth, and that CIA 
heads William Casey and Robert Gates overrode the views of CIA pro- 
fessionals and falsified evidence to support a Soviet linkage. The Times 
was not alone in following a misleading party line, but it is notable that 
this paper of record has yet to acknowledge its exceptional gullibility and 
propaganda service. 


Vietnam: Was the United States a 
Victim or an Aggressor? 

In chapters 5 through 7, we show that media coverage of the Indochina 
wars fits the propaganda model very well. The United States first in- 
tervened in Indochina immediately after World War II in support of 
French recolonization, after which it carried out a twenty-one-year effort 
(1954-75) to impose a government in the southern half ofVietnam that 
U.S. officials and analysts consistently recognized as lacking any substan- 
tial indigenous support, and in opposition to local nationalist-though 
Communist-forces that were understood to have a mass base. U.S. 
leaders operated on the belief that their overwhelming military might 
would not only enable them, but entitled them, to force submission to a 
minority government of U.S. choice. 

By normal word usage this would make the U.S. effort in Vietnam a 
case of "aggression." The mainstream media, however, rarely if ever 
found U.S. policy there to be other than highly moral and well inten- 
tioned, even if based on miscalculation ofits costs-to us (see chapter 5). 
The media readily accepted that we were protecting "South Vietnam"-a 


U.S. creation ruled by a dictator imported directly from the United 
States-against somebody else's aggression, vacillating in their identifica- 
tion of the aggressor between North Vietnam, the Soviet Union, China, 
or the resistance in South Vietnam engaging in "internal aggression"! It is 
compelling evidence of the propaganda service of the mainstream media 
that throughout the war they accepted this basic propaganda assumption 
of the war managers, and from that era up to today, we have never found 
a mainstream editorial or news report that characterized the U.S. war 
against Vietnam, and then all of Indochina, as a case of aggression. 

After the United States terminated the military phase of the war in 
1975, it maintained and enforced an eighteen-year boycott of the coun- 
try that it had virtually destroyed. According to Vietnamese estimates, 
the war had cost them 3 million killed, 300,000 missing, 4.4 million 
wounded, and 2 million harmed by toxic chemicals; and its land was left 
ravaged by bombs and Rome plows as well as chemical weapons. With 
58,000 killed, the U.S. death toll from the war was under one-tenth of i 
percent of its population; Vietnam's death toll was 17 percent of its popu- 
lation, and only Vietnam's people were attacked by chemical warfare and 
had their countryside devastated. 

Nevertheless, U.S. officials and the mainstream media continued to 
view the U.S. role in the war as creditable, the United States as the vic- 
tim. President George Bush stated in 1992 that "Hanoi knows today that 
we seek only answers without the threat of retribution for the past."59 
That is, the Vietnamese had done things to us that might justify retribu- 
tion on our part, but we only seek answers regarding our men missing 
in action. 60 New York Times foreign affairs commentator Leslie Gelb justi- 
fied classifying Vietnam an "outlaw" on the grounds that "they had killed 
Americans. "61 This reflects the common establishment view, implicit in 
Bush's comment, that nobody has a right of self-defense against this 
country, even if it intervenes across the ocean to impose by force a gov- 
ernment that the people of that country rej eel. 

U.S. Chemical Warfare in Indochina 

It is also of interest how the media have treated the massive use of chemi- 
cals during the Vietnam War and the horrifying aftermath for the vic- 
tim country. In 1961 and 1962 the Kennedy administration authorized 
the use of chemicals to destroy rice crops in South Vietnam-in violation 
of a U.S. tradition as well as international law (Admiral William Leahy, 
in response to a proposal to destroy Japanese rice crops in 1944, stated 
that this would "violate every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and 


all known laws of war").62 Between 1961 and 1971, however, the U.S. 
Air Force sprayed 20 million gallons of concentrated arsenic-based and 
dioxin-laden herbicides (mainly Agent Orange) on 6 million acres of 
crops and trees, besides using large quantities of the "super tear gas" 
CS and vast amounts of napalm and phosphorus bombs.*'-* An estimated 
13 percent of South Vietnam's land was subjected to chemical attacks. 
This included 30 percent of its rubber plantations and 36 percent of 
its mangrove forests, along with other large forest areas, destroyed by 
toxic chemicals in programs that included multiple "large-scale inten- 
tional effon[s] combining defoliation with incendiaries to produce a 
forest fire in South Vietnam."64 A 1967 study prepared by the head of 
the Agronomy Section of the Japanese Science Council concluded that 
U.S. anticrop warfare had already ruined more than 3.8 million acres of 
arable land in South Vietnam, killing almost 1,000 peasants and over 
13,000 livestock. ^5 Xhis policy of attempting to force enemy capitula- 
tion by destroying its food supply was not only contrary to the rules of 
wafj*' it was notable in that it "first and overwhelmingly affected small 
children.,, 67 

Laos was also subjected to chemical attacks in 1966 and 1969, directed 
at both crops, and vegetation along communication routes. And in Cam- 
bodia, some 173,000 acres of rubber plantations, crops and forests were 
heavily sprayed with Agent Orange in the spring of 1969.** The Cambo- 
dian government complained bitterly at the violation of its neutrality by 
this inhumane and illegal action, but Cambodia was too small and weak 
for its voice to be heard or for it to be able to mobilize a legal or other 
defense. Although the U.N. General Assembly did strongly condemn the 
use of chemical agents as contrary to international law by an 83'tO-3 vote 
in 1969) it was powerless to act against the United States, and there was 
no "international community" mobilization to halt its use of chemical 
warfare in Cambodia or elsewhere in Indochina. 

During the Vietnam war, the use of chemicals was reported and criti- 
cized in the U.S. media when first disclosed in 1966, but the subject was 
quickly dropped. The illegality of chemical warfare and a poljcy of star- 
vation, and their effects on the victim population, were virtually unre- 
ported. There were exceptions, such as Orville Schell, Jr.'s 1971 Look 
magazine article "Silent Vietnam: How we invented ecocide and killed a 
country," but they were rare indeed. After the war, because of the effects 
of Agent Orange on U.S. soldiers, there was some coverage of this chem- 
ical warfare campaign; but the vastly greater impact on the direct targets 
ofrbis warfare in South Vietnam remained close to invisible. Of 522 arti- 
cles in the New York Times, the Wa^ington Post, the Los Angeles Times, 
Netostveeki and Time during the 1990S that mentioned Agent Orange and 


Vietnam together, the vast majority focused on the hann done to U.S. 
service personnel; only nine articles acknowledged the targeting of food 
crops (thiry-nine mentioned forest cover alone as the target); only eleven 
discussed in any detail the impact on Vietnamese and the Vietnamese 
environment; only three characterized the use of Agent Orange as a 
"chemical weapon" or "chemical warfare;" and in only two articles was it 
suggested that its use might constitute a war crime. 

The WiiH Street Journal did have a lead story on this topic in February 
1997, reporting that as niany as 500,000 children may have been born 
with dioxin-related deformities and that birth defects in the South were 
four times those in the North.™ The article did acknowledge U.S. re- 
sponsibility for this disaster but contended that "the United States, emo- 
tionally spent after losing the war, paid no heed." But the United States 
did pay heed to the flight of the "boat people" and was not too exhausted 
to enforce a vigorous boycott of the target of its aggression, even ifit took 
no responsibility whatever for the condition of its victims. 

The large-scale application of chemical weapons, and napalm, in Viet- 
nam was confmed to the South. One reason for this was that North Viet- 
nam had a government with links to other countries, so that the use of 
these barbarous and illegal weapons against it would have been widely 
publicized. South Vietnam was occupied by the United States and its 
client regime, so that the victimized people of the South were voiceless 
and could be treated with unlimited savagery. This of course contra- 
dicted the claim that we were protecting them against aggression, but the 
media not only underplayed the savagery, they failed to call attention to 
the contradiction and its significance. New "ibrk Times journalist Barbara 
Crossette did report that the U.S. failure to get involved in studying the 
effects of chemical warfare in Vietnam had been unfortunate, because as 
this country had used it heavily in the South but not in the North, this 
made Vietnam a controlled experiment in the effects ofdioxin on humans 
from which much could be learned of benefit to ourselves. But neither 
Crossette nor any other mainstream reporter had anything to say about 
the fact that the United States had used dioxin only on the ones it was 
allegedly protecting against aggression, nor did they suggest that this 
constituted a serious war crime, or that this counuy might have an obli- 
gation to help those it had victimized. 

During the 1980s, the Reagan administration mounted a major propa- 
ganda campaign over alleged victims of "Yellow Rain" In Cambodia 
and Laos, claiming that chemical warfare had been employed there by 
the Soviet Union through its Vietnam proxy. This propaganda effort 
eventually collapsed following the U.S. Army's own inability to confirm 
this warfare and, more important, the fmding that the alleged Yellow 


Rain was bee feces, not chemicals. ''^ Nevertheless, this campaign re- 
ceived vastly more publicity than the real and large-scale chemical war- 
fare carried out by the United States in Indochina. The Wall Street 
Journal, which had heavily featured Yellow Rain and expressed the great- 
est indignation at this display of Communist evil, never mentioned the 
U.S. employment of chemicals in that area during its Yellow Rain cam- 
paign. The Joumafs publisher, Peter Kann, eventually wrote that the 
Vietnam war record had clarified "who were the good guys and who were 
the bad guys," definitively shown by "the poisoned fields of Laos" (his 
euphemism for Yellow Rain). 73 In short, Kann places the massive reaJ- 
world use of chemical warfare by the United States in Orwell's black hole 
and demonstrates Communist evil by purring forward the discredited 
claim of Yellow Rain that his paper has still not admitted to be fraudu- 

But the more important facts are these: that with the help of the 
media, the Soviet Union was effectively linked to the use of this ugly 
weapon, based on false evidence; while by treating the real and large- 
scale use of chemical weapons in Indochina by the United States in very 
low key up to this very day, the media have helped convey the impression 
that this country is a moral force on this issue and opposes use of this ter- 
rible weapomy. U.S. leaders have opposed the use of chemical warfare- 
by enemy states-but it is a different maner when they choose to use 
such weapomy themselves, or when a client state does the same.''* 

Rewriting Vietnam War History 

There have been thousands of books written on the Vietnam War,7S and 
that war has been a brooding omnipresence in the U.S. culture since its 
end in 1975. For the dominant elite the war represents an era in which 
resistance to national policy and the associated rise of formerly apathetic 
sectors of society caused a "crisis of democracy."'* Those unruly sectors 
and the dissidents are seen as having damaged the cultural and political 
framework and imposed unreasonable impediments to the use of force, 
the laner referred to as the "Vietnam syndrome." Within the umuly sec- 
tors and among the dissidents, of course, the "Sixties" are viewed as an 
era of liberation, of cultural and moral advance, and a temporary surge of 

The propaganda model would lead us to expect mainstream media 
retrospectives on the war to reflect elite perspectives, portraying the 
1960s as a dark age and the U.S. role in the war as, at worst, a case of 
good intentions gone awry. Focusing here on their treatment of the war 


over the past decade, we see that the media have mainly repeated and 
elaborated several apologetic themes already entrenched by the end of 
the war. 

One theme has been that the U.S. intervention was justified by the fact 
of "communism on the march" (editorial, Washington Post, April 30, 
2000). It was argued from the beginning that the Communist advance in 
Vietnam was part of a global communist conspiracy, a position main- 
tained in the face of the splir and hostility between China and the Soviet 
Union, tension between China and North Vietnam, and the absence of 
any evidence that North Viemam was anybody's tool. In his book In Ret- 
mspect,77 former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara admits that he 
and his colleagues made a serious error on this point. But neither he nor 
the other establishment figures who have used this argument have ever 
questioned the U.S. right to intervene by force to stop the "march of 
communism" in a country where the Communists had led a nationalist 
revolution, were recognized by all official and nonofficial authorities to 
command the suPPOrt of a large majority of the population, and where 
their defeat would require open aggression, mass killing, and the virtual 
destruction of a distant society. 

Closely related was the theme that we were protecting "South Viet- 
nam" and the "South Vietnamese," who "let the Americans take over the 
fighting" (editorial, Washington Post, April 30, 1995). A subtheme of this 
line is that we "let down" the South Vietnamese. But as noted earlier. 
South Vietnam as a political entity was a U.S. concoction and the U.S. 
war managers recognized that most of the southern population sup- 
ported the side the United States was fighting. This explains why the 
main thrust of U.S. violence was directed to the South, where napalm, 
B-S2 bombing raids, chemical warfare, the itlstitutionaliy.ed killing of 
civilians, and a scorched-earth policy were used to destroy the base of 
the popular movement.''* We also noted earlier that this ferocious U.S. 
assault on the South-which contradicted the claim that we were pro- 
tecting South Vietnamese-remains invisible in the U.S. media. 

Another important theme in the mainstream media for many years has 
been the notion that the United States was the victim in the Vietnam war, 
the Vietnamese the cruel villains. This remark. able inversion of reality has 
been accomplished by two processes: first, by a massive suppression of 
evidence on the consequences of the war for the Vietnamese; and second, 
by demonizing the victims, based in large measure on "the national beat- 
ification of POWs [prisoners of war] and the myth of POWs. as. martyrs. 
s.tiU being tortured byVietnam."19 

The only Vietnamese allowed modest attention in the media have been 
those mobilized to fight the U.S. war and who were "let down";8o the vast 


numbers killed or damaged by the U.S. assault have been treated as 
"unworthy victims." The overwhelming preoccupation of officials, jour- 
nalists, pundits, and intellectuals with media outreach has been on U.S. 
victims and the effects of the war on this country. Robert McNamara's 
widely publicized book, supposedly a mea culpa and moral tract, is no- 
table for the fact that his notion of the war's "high costs," and the error 
and guilt he feels, extend only to U.S. lives and the effects of the war on 
"the political unity of our society."81 He offers neither regrets, moral 
reflections, nor apologies for his country having invaded, mercilessly 
bombed, ravaged the land, and killed and wounded millions of innocent 
people in a small distant peasant society in pursuit of its own political 

In a remarkable cultural process, also, the victims have been turned 
into the villains. As we describe in chapter 5, in an attempt to prolong the 
war President Richard Nixon seized on the question of the adequacy of 
Vietnamese accounting for our military personnel who were captured 
(POWs) and those missing in action (MIAs). He succeeded in keeping 
the war going, and some 16,000 more U.S. soldiers and untold numbers 
ofVietnamese died in the further fighting in the purported interest of 
missing paws. But although there has never been any credible evidence 
that a single POW was hidden by the North Vietnamese, this claim be- 
came an article offaith and cult that dominated U.S. policy toward Viet- 
nam for many years. 

The myth also became the basis ofpopular culture accounts in movies 
such as The Deer Htmler^ Uncommon Valors Ro. W: The Escape, and 
Missing in Action, in which Rambo-like heroes slaughter evil Vietnamese 
as they save our betrayed and tormented POWs. These movies turned 
history on its head. As Vietnam war historian H. Bruce Franklin points 
out, "America's vision of the war was being transformed. The actual 
photographs and TV footage of massacred villagers, napalmed children, 
Vietnamese prisoners being tortured and murdered, wounded GI's 
screaming in agony, and body bags being loaded by the dozen for ship- 
ment back home were being replaced by simulated images of American 
POWs in the savage hands of Asian communists. "83 The powerful cul- 
tural myth of abused POWs as the central feature of the Vietnam war not 
only allowed the war to be extended; it helped justify the U.S. failure to 
aid its victim in accord with end-of-war promises and it provided the 
basis for an eighteen-year economic war against the victim country. It 
also functioned as a potent agent of militarization and force weakening 
the "Vietnam syndrome." 

In his recent book Vietnam and Other American Fantasies, H. Bruce 
Franklin, who had previously exposed the fallacies and cult qualities of 


the POW-MIA myth, addressed this issue once again, as well as other 
fantasies (such as the claim that the antiwar activists often spit at return- 
ing veterans). 84 Franklin's book was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times 
but was otherwise only twice mentioned in passing in the U.S. main- 
stream press. On the other hand, a book by Michael Lind, Vietnamj The 
Necessary War,^^ which explains that the war was justifiable because com- 
munism was on the march, U.S. "credibility" was at stake, and the Viet- 
namese communists were cruel and ruthless-demonstrated in part by 
their refusal to surrender and consequent responsibility for those killed 
by U.S. bombs! -was treated differently. It received forty-four reviews 
and was mentioned twenty-seven other times in the mainstream media, 
and Lind was given Op-Ed space in both the New York Times and the 
Washingl07\ Post, among other opportunities. 

In his review of Lind's book, Vietnam War historian Uoyd Gardner 
noted that any U.S. "credibility" problem that arose in connection with 
[he Vietnam war was a creation of the war managers themselves and 
flowed from their own decisions; and Gardner also comments, after ana- 
lyzing a series of Lind arguments in defense of the war, that "the evidence 
simply washes away his positions like a sand castle on the beach. "86 But 
Lind was saying what the elite wants said, and Franklin was not, so that 
mainstream media treatment followed accordingly. 


Laos's Plain of Jars was subjected to some of the heaviest bombings of 
civilian targets in history, especially after 1968, when Washington was 
compelled under domestic pressure ro enter negotiations with North 
Vietnam and had ro terminate its bombing there. It turned to Laos, 
although that small peasant country was a marginal facror in the wars; 
but Nixon and Kissinger could hardly leave U.S. bombers inactive. Over- 
ail, some 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos. These raids 
wiped out 353 villages and killed thousands of civilians, and they con- 
tinue ro kill now, as the Plain was saturated with hundreds of millions 
of "bombies"-tiny antipersonnel weapons specifically designed to kill 
and maim. With their 20-ro-30 percent failure-to-explode rate, they re- 
mained as potential killers, and their casualty rate is still high, estimates 
running from hundreds ro 20,000 or more per year, half of them deaths 
and half of the victims children, s? 

There have been efforts to deal with this humanitarian catastrophe. 
The British-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has been trying ro 
remove the lethal objects, but the British press reports that the United 


States is "conspicuously missing from the handful of western organiza- 
tions that have followed MAG," though it has finally agreed to train some 
Laotian civilians. The British press also reports, with some annoyance, 
that the United States has refused to provide MAG specialists with "ren- 
der harmless procedures," Still treated as a state secret for weapons three 
decades old.^' The U.S. mainstream media have treated in very low key 
the continuing human toll suffered in Laos and have maintained almost 
complete silence concerning the U.S. non-cooperativeness in attempts to 
alleviate a crisis dating back to the "secret war" against Laos, which again 
was "secret" only by tacit propaganda service of the mainstream media 
(see chapter 6). 


Important changes have occurred in Cambodia since 1988, including 
Vietnam's withdrawal from that country, elections held under UN aus- 
pices, and the death of Pol Pot. We noted in chapter 7 that, after the Viet- 
namese had ousted Pol Pot in December 1978, although the United 
States and its allies had denounced Pol POt as "another Hitler" commit- 
ting "genocide," they quickly became his supporter, allowing him to re- 
tain Cambodia's UN. seat and otherwise aiding and protecting him in 
his Thailand refuge. Vietnam was severely punished-by harsh sanctions 
and by U.S. support for a Chinese invasion to teach Vietnam a lesson- 
fOt having terminated Pol Pot's atrocities! President Carter's National 
Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated in 1979 that "I encouraged 
the Chinese to support Pol Pot. I encouraged the Thai to help D,K. 
[Democratic Kampuchea, Pol Pot's forces]. Pol Pot was an abomination. 
We could never support him but China could. "9o In the late 1980s and 
early 1990$, as the Vietnamese sought to end their isolation by exiting 
from Cambodia, but insisted as a condition for withdrawal that Pol Pot 
and his Khmer Rouge be excluded from returning to power, the United 
States objected, and insisted, with eventual success, that the Khmer 
Rouge be included as a contestant party in the post-occupation settle- 
ment. ''i 

What dominated U.S. policy and led to its support of Pol Pot was the 
classic rule that the enemy of my enemy (Vietnam) is my friend, and per- 
haps also the new tilt toward China, also hostile toward Vietnam. The 
support of Pol Pot was awkward, given the prior denunciations of his 
policies, but the mainstream media handled it with aplomb, and the U.S. 
public was almost surely completely unaware that the United States had 
become his ally and supporter. (The explicit statement of support by 


Brzezinski quoted above was never mentioned in the New York Times, the 
Washington Post, or Newsweek; it was quoted once in both the Los Angeles 
Times and Time.) 

However, in the late 1990S, after Vietnam had left Cambodia and US. 
officials' anti- Vietnam passions had subsided, and Pol Pot was no longer 
a useful instrument of anti-Vietnam policy, U.S. officials and pundits 
rediscovered Pol Pot's and the Khmer Rouge's villainy and candidacy for 
war crimes trials. The media handled the previous "tilt" toward Pol Pot 
mainly by evasion, essentially blacking out the years i979-95> or vaguely 
intimating that the US. had supported him for reasons of "realpolitik," 
but avoiding both details on the nature and magnitude of support as well 
as any reflections on the morality of backing "another Hitler." The New 
York Times's summary of "Pol Pot's Rise and Fall" (April 17, 1998) hsts 
for "i 979-1990; Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge are given refuge at Thai bor- 
der where they fight back against the Vietnamese." "Given refuge" is mis- 
leading: they were given economic and military aid and political support 
by the United States and its allies. The Times's main reporter on Cambo- 
dia in early 1998, Seth Mydans, repeatedly blacked out mention of US. 
support, referring to "the decade-long civil war that followed" Pol Pot's 
ouster (April 13), and a nineteen-year "guerilla insurgency in the jungles 
of western and northern Cambodia" (April 17). 

The Boston Globe, New York Times, Washington Post, and Loi Angeles 
Times, editorializing on the death of Pol Pot on April 17,1998, were uni- 
formly indignant over his crimes and regretful at his escape from justice, 
but all avoided mentioning the long US. support of the criminal-as well 
as the U.S. contribution to the first phase of a "Decade of Genocide. "92 
The Waihingion Post blacked out the inconvenient fifteen-year period of 
support of Pol Pot with this summary: "After the nightmare of Khmer 
Rouge rule and genocide, the United States and its allies pumped mil- 
lions of donars into Cambodia to help rebuild and to hold elections."^^ 

It is enlightening to compare the media's treatment of Pol Pot and 
Indonesian leader Suharto, who was also in the news in 1998, as Indone- 
sia suffered a financial crisis that-along with popular resistance to the 
dictatorship— eventually led to his ouster. Pol Pot was described in the 
editorials and news columns of April 1998 as "crazed," a "killer," "war 
criminal," "mass murderer," "blood-soaked," and as having engineered a 
"reign of terror" and "genocide." But in 1998 and 1999, and in earlier 
years as well, while Suharto was occasionally referred to as a "dictator" 
and running an "authoritarian" regime, he was never a "killer" or "mass 
murderer" or one responsible for "genocide." The terminological double 
standard is maintained reliably throughout the mainstream media. 

Less obvious but equally interesting is the difference in willingness 


to identify the responsible parties for the killings of Pol Pot and Suharto. 
In the case of Pol Pot, there is no uncertainty or complexity: editorials 
and news articles uniformly make him and the Khmer Rouge leadership 
clearly and unambiguously responsible for all deaths in Cambodia dur- 
ing the period 1975-78. He was the "man who slaughtered two million" 
(USA Today)i "the executioner" (Boston Glebe) who "presided over the 
deaths" of his victims [Wbshington Post), "the man who drove Cambodia 
to ruin" (New York Times). 

But in Suhano's case, we move to an ambiguous responsibility, which 
means none at all: in the New York Times, for example, "a 1965 coup led to 
the massacres of hundreds of thousands of supposed communists" (edi- 
torial, Aug. 23, 1996), where we have no agent doing the killing; or "a 
wave of violence that took up to lives and led Suharto to seize 
power from Sukarno in a military coup" (Seth Mydans, Aug. 7, 1996), 
where the massacre not only has no agent, but is falseLy situated before 
the takeover of power by Suharto. In a later piece, Mydans states that 
"more than 500,000 Indonesians are estimated to have died in a purge of 
leftists in 1965, the year Mr. Suharto came to power" (April 8, 1997). 
Note the passive voice, never used in connection with Pol Pot, the word 
"purge" instead of "slaughter" or "massacre," and the continued failure 
to identify the agent. 

In the case of East Timor, also, the Times is uncertain about the source 
of the killing: "This is one of the world's sadder places, where 100,000 to 
200,000 people died from 1974 in a brutal civil war and the consequent 

invasion through combat, execution, disease and starvation " (Steven 

Erlanger, Oct. 21, 1990). In addition to the lack of a clear agent, this sen- 
tence seriously misrepresents the facts-the civil war was shorr and left 
small numbers dead; and the invasion was not "consequent" to a brutal 
civil war, except in Indonesian propaganda. 

Another important difference in the treatment of the "worthy" victims 
of Pol Pot and the "unworthy" victims of Suharto is in the willingness to 
explain away the killings. With Pol Pot, as we describe in chapter 7, the 
background of the first phase of the genocide was completely blacked out 
in the mainstream account-there is no qualification to Pol Pot's respon- 
sibility as a killer because his forces had undergone terrible damage and 
sought vengeance for the crimes they had suffered; nor are any deaths in 
Pol Pot's years of rule to be explained by the starvation and disease 
already pervasive in April 1975. No, the only mentionable background is 
his Paris training and Communist fanaticism. 

But with Suharto we encounter a whole new world of contextualized 
apologetics. For many years the main protective formula was that the 
1965—66 killings were "a result of a failed coup," which "touched off 


a wave of violence," or followed an "onslaught from the left."95 This 
formula, invoked repeatedly, suggests that the mass killings were pro- 
voked and thus maybe justified by a prior "onslaught." The writers never 
explain why a failed coup could possibly justify a large-scale slaughter, 
but the hint is left hanging. In more recent years, usually in connection 
with the explanation and rationalization of the continuation of a dicta- 
torship, the media regularly juxtaposed political repression with "stabil- 
ity" and "growth": "the signs of his success are everywhere," although 
Suharto has brought these gains "hy maintaining a tight grip on power 
and suppressing public criticism and political opposition. "96 These state- 
ments, from the Netv York Times, offer a kind of context that the paper 
never gives to Castro, let alone a Pol Pot, and it shows an apologetic that 
runs deep. 

This apologetic extends to the Suharto invasion and occupation of 
East Timor. For years, Nev: York Times reporters have claimed that In- 
donesia invaded in the midst of a civil war,97 when in fact that civil war 
was over well before the invasion. The paper's news coverage of East 
Timor actually fell to zero as the Indonesian attacks and killings in East 
Timor reached a deadly peak in 1977-78, a slaughter that elsewhere 
would be called "genocidal." And although Indonesia occupied East 
Timor in violation of standing UN. rulings till its induced exit in 1999, 
the paper's reporters repeatedly referred to East Timor as a "disputed 
province" and East Timorese resistance as "separatist," thereby internal- 
izing and explicitly legitimizing the aggression and occupation. 98 

The bias and gentle treatment of Suharto and the Indonesian govern- 
ment in the media is once again correlated with US. policy support that 
dates back to the military coup and slaughters of 1965. These were 
greeted with enthusiasm by US. officials-then Secretary of Defense 
Robert McNamara referred to the events as one of the "dividends" of 
U.S. support for the Indonesian military-and the "boiling bloodbath" 
(Time) and "staggering mass slaughter" (New \brk Times) were also seen 
in the media as a "gleam of light" Games Reston in the New iiirfe Times').^ 
U.S. military and economic aid and diplomatic protection continued 
throughout the years of the Suharto dictatorship, and the media's finding 
him a good genocidist followed accordingly. 

New York Times reporter David Sanger differentiated Suharto and post- 
1990 Saddam Hussein-before 1990 he was a U.S. ally-saying "Mr. 
Suharto is not hoarding anthrax or threatening to invade Australia. "loo 
That is, Suharto's invasion, mass killing, and long illegal occupation of 
East Timor is given zero weight, and his slaughter of somewhere between 
500,000 and 2 million people within Indonesia some years back is also 


not mentioned. This tells us all we need to know about how good and 
bad genocidists fare in the Western propaganda system. 


In his book Golden Rule, political scientist Thomas Ferguson argues that 
where the major investors in political parties and elections agree on an 
issue, the parties will not compete on that issue, no matter how strongly 
the public might want an alternative. He contends that for ordinary vot- 
ers to influence electoral choices they would have to have "strong chan- 
nels that directly facilitate mass deliberation and expression. "101 These 
would include unions and other intermediate organizations that might, 
through their collective power, cause the interests of ordinary voters to be 
given greater weight in the political system. 

The propaganda model, and the institutional arrangements that it re- 
flects, suggests that the same forces that preclude competition among the 
parties on issues on which the major investors agree, will also dominate 
media choices and rule OUt "mass deliberation and expression" on those 
issues. For example, polls regularly indicate that, except in periods of war 
and intense war propaganda, the public wants a smaller defense budget 
and favors a spending shift from defense to education and other civil 
functions. But because the major investors agree that a large defense 
budget is desirable, the two dominant parties compete only on whether 
the one or the other is st.inting on military expenditures, with both prom- 
ising to enlarge it (as both George W. Bush and Al Gore did in the presi- 
dential election campaign of 2000). And the mainstream media do the 
same, limiting debate to the terms defined by the two parties and exclud- 
ing deliberation and expression of the position that large cuts are desir- 
able. The alternative presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, called for such 
cuts, but the media denied him a voice on the issues, some of them 
explicitly defending his exclusion from the presidential debates on the 
grounds that the options afforded by the two parties sufficed. 

The U.S. corporate community has favored an immense defense 
budget — currently more than five times the size of that of a steadily weak- 
ening Russia, the second biggest spender-because of the great benefits 
its members derive from military spending. These include weapons and 
other contracting business, direct and indirect subsidies in research,104 
and the role played by military power in supporting the global economic 
expansion in which many U.S. transnational corporations are active 


participants and beneficiaries. Business also benefits from the market- 
opening actions of trade agreements and from the supportive operations 
of the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF. But these trade agreements 
and the activities of the international fmancial institutions have generated 
controversy and political struggle, because while their benefits to busi- 
ness are dear, their costs are borne heavily by workers forced to compete 
in a global job market. Furthermore, globalization and trade agreements 
strengthen the political as well as the economic powei of the coipoiate 
community, in part because they shift decision-making authority from 
democratic polities to bankers and technocrats who more reliably serve 
the transnational corporate interest. Here also, as in the case of defense- 
versus civilian- oriented budgets, polls show a sharp dichotomy between 
corporate and public preferences, with the latter generally hostile to the 
agreements and institutional arrangements favored by business, los 

The propaganda model fits well the media's treatment of this range 
of issues. Consider, for example, their coverage of the passage of the 
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the subsequent 
Mexican financial crisis and meltdown of 1994-95. Polls taken before 
its enactment consistently showed substantial majorities opposed to 
NAFrA-and later to the bailout of investors in Mexican securities-but 
the elite in favor. Media editorials, news coverage, and selection of 
"experts" in opinion columns were heavily skewed toward the elite pref- 
erence; their judgment was that the benefits of NAFTA were obvious, 
were agreed to by all qualified authorities, and that only demagogues and 
"special interests" were opposed. 10'' The "special interests" who might be 
the "losers" included women, minorities, and a majority of the work- 
force. The media dealt with the awkward fact that poUs showed steady 
majority opposition to the agreement mainly by ignoring it, but occasion- 
ally they suggested that the public was uninformed and didn't recognize 
its own true interests. The effort of labor to influence the outcome of 
the NAFTA debates was sharply attacked in both the New \brk Times and 
the Washington Post, with no comparable criticism of corporate or govern- 
mental (U.S. and Mexican) lobbying and propaganda. And while labor 
was attacked for its alleged position on these issues, the press refused to 
allow the actual position to be expressed. 

In December 1994, only eleven months after NAFrA went into effect, 
Mexico suffered a major financial crisis, induding a massive flight of cap- 
ital, a devaluation ofthe currency, and a subsequent bailout by the IMF 
that required Mexico to carry out painful deflationary measures. Despite 
the fact that the meltdown occurred within a year of the introduction of 
NAFTA, which the media had portrayed as ushering in a prospective 


golden age of economic advance, they were unanimous that NAFTA 
was not to blame. And in virtual lock-step they supported the Mexican 
(investor) bailout, despite poll reports of general public opposition in the 
United States. Experts and media pundits and editorialists repeatedly 
explained that one great merit ofNAFTA was that it had "locked Mexico 
in" so that it couldn't alter its overall policy direction or resort to controls 
to protect itself from severe deflation and unemployment. They were 
oblivious to the profoundly undemocratic nature of this lock-in, made 
more questionable by the fact that it had been negotiated by a Mexican 
government that ruled as a result of electoral fraud. i'° 

More recently, when the growing global opposition to the policies of 
the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank led to mass protests at the WTO 
conference in Seattle in November and December 1999, and then at the 
annual meeting of the IMF and the World Bank in Washington, D.C., in 
April 2000, media coverage ofthese events was derisive and hostile to the 
protesters and almost uniformly failed to deal with the substantive issues 
that drove the protests. The media portrayed the Seanle protesters as "all- 
purpose agitators" {U.S. News & ]Xbrld Report), "terminally aggrieved" 
(Philadelphia Inquirer), simply "against world trade" (ABC News), and 
making "much ado about nothing" (CNN), but the bases of the protest- 
ers' grievances were almost entirely unexplored.'" Similarly, in the case 
of the Washington, D.C., protests, the media repeatedly reported on 
activists' attire, looks, body odors, fadism, and claimed a lack of "any- 
thing that can coherently be called a cause" (Michael Kelly, journalist, 
Washington Post), and they continued their refusal to address issues. 
There were many informed protesters with coherent agendas at Seanle 
and Washington-including reputable economists, social theorists, and 
veteran organizers from around the world" 3_but the media did not seek 
them out, preferring to stereotype antiglobalization activists as ignorant 
troublemakers. On op-ed pages, there was a major imbalance hostile to 
the protesters. TV bias was at least as great, and often misleading on the 
facts. In his November 29, t999, backgrounder on the WTO, Dan Rather 
explained that the organization had ruled on many environmental issues, 
implying that those rulings were protective of the environment when in 
fact they generally privileged trade rights over environmental needs. 

Another notable feature of media reporting on both the Seattle and 
Washington, D. C, protests, and a throwback to their biased treatment 
of the protests of the Vietnam War era (1965-75),114 was their exaggera- 
tion of protester violence, their downplaying of police provocations 
and violence, and their complaisance at illegal police tactics designed to 
limit all protestor actions, peaceable or otherwise. Although the Seattle 


police resorted to force and used chemical agents against many nonvio- 
lent protesters well before a handful of individuals began breaking win- 
dows, both then and later the media reversed this chronology, stating that 
the police violence was a response to protester violence. In fact, the van- 
dals were largely ignored by the police, while peaceful protesters were 
targeted for beatingSj tear gas, torture with pepper spray, and arrest, 
One Nei» York Times anicle went so far as to daira ihat the Seattle pro- 
testers had thrown excrement, rocks, and Molotov cocktails at delegates 
and police officers; the Times later issued a correction acknowledging that 
these claims were false. Dan Rather, who had falsely alleged that the 
protesters had "brought on today's crackdown" at Seattle, later suggested 
that the Washington protesters were possibly "hoping for a replay of last 
year's violence in Seattle," setting this off against "those charged with 
keeping the peace" who "have other ideas. "118 

In their eighty-seven-page report. Out of Control: Seattle's Flawed Re- 
sponse to Protests Against the World Trade Organization, the American Civil 
Liberties Union (ACLU) stated that "demonstrators [in Seattle] were 
overwhelmingly peaceful. Not so the police." The response of the Seattle 
police to the protests was characterized by "draconian" violations of civil 
liberties, including widespread use of*'chemical weapons, rubber bullets 
and clubs against peaceful protesters and bystanders alike." But NBC, 
ABC, CBS, CNN, and the New York Times and Washington Post aU ig- 
nored the release of the ACLU's findings, which ran counter to their own 
uniformly pro-police and ami-protester line. 

The media's reversal of chronology and inflation of the threat of ac- 
tivist violence, and their low-keyed treatment of numerous illegal police 
actions designed to instill fear in those wanting to protest peaceably, 119 
provided the enabling ground for both police violence and serious 
restrictions on free speech. These increased in scope and sophistication 
between Seattle and Washington, and were then applied to squelch pro- 
test at the Republican and Democratic conventions in Philadelphia and 
Los Angeles in July and August 2000. '20 xhe corporate media's hostility 
to the goals of the protests, closely aligned with that of the rest of the cor- 
porate establishment, caused their devotion to the First Amendment to 
flag in a way it never has when their own rights and privileges have been 
at Stake. 

As is suggested by the media's treatment of NAFTA and of labor's 
right to participate in its debates, as well as the media coverage ofWater- 
gate, COINTELPRO, and major events in the earlier history of labor- 
management conflict (the Haymarket affair, the Homestead strike, the 
post-World War 1 "red scare"), 121 the propaganda model applies to do- 


mestic as well as foreign policy issues. Labor has been under renewed 
siege in the United States for the past several decades, its condition 
adversely affected by the deflationary policies of the early 1980s, corpo- 
rate downsizing, globalization, a vigorous business campaign to defeat 
unions, and government support of, or indifference to, the damage being 
inflicted on unions and workers. There was a major drop in union mem- 
bership from the beginning of the Reagan era, with union density falling 
from 25 percent in 1980 to J4-5 percent in J996 (and only J0_2 percent in 
the private sector). This reflected weakened labor bargaining power and 
was accompanied by significant concessions in wages and benefits, more 
onerous working conditions, and greater worker insecurity. 

President Reagan's firing of !I,000 striking air-controllers in 1981 
"put the government seal of approval on strike-breaking and a new era of 
industrial relations opened. "122 But you would hardly know this from 
reading or listening to the mainstream media. An exceptional t994 Busi- 
ness Vdek article noted that "over the past dozen years . . . U.S. industry 
has conducted one of the most successful union wars ever," helped by 
"illegally firing thousands of workers for exercising their right to organ- 
ize," with unlawful firings occurring in "one-third of all representation 
elections in the late '80S. "123 But this successful war was carried out 
quietly, with media cooperation. The decertification of unions, use of 
replacement workers, and long, debilitating strikes like that involving 
Caterpillar were treated in a very low key manner. In a notable illustra- 
tion of the applicability of the propaganda model, the nine-month-long 
Pittston miners' strike that began in April 1989 was accorded much less 
attention, and less friendly treatment, than the Soviet miners' strikes of 
the summer of that same yesr, 

From 1977 through 1999, while the incomes of the top 1 percent of 
households grew by 84.8 percent and the top 10 percent by 44.6 percent, 
the bottom 60 percent lost ground and the income of the lowest 20 
percent fell by 12.5 percent. '^'^ Real hourly earnings of production and 
nonsupervisory employees (i.e., the 80 percent of the workforce that 
holds working-class jobs) fell by 4.8 percent between 1973 and 1999.^^* 
This, along with the adverse trend of social indicators in the same 
period.,'-^ suggests that the welfare of the majority declined in this era of 
high employment, a "new economy," and a spectacular upswing in the 
stock market. In its euphoria phase, which ended abruptly with the col- 
lapse of the market in 1999 and 2000, the mainstream media 
hardly noticed that only a minority had been the beneficiaries; 128 they 
briefly discovered this issue only under the impetus of Pat Buchanan's 
right-wing populist outcries during the 1996 presidential election cam- 


paign. In the 2000 electoral campaign, once again the two major party 
candidates said nothing about the failure of the majority to be lifted in 
the supposed "rising tide" that would benefit everybody; only Ralph 
Nader atld other marginalized candidates did, and as noted, the domi- 
nant media found that the agenda of the major parties was all that they 
could ask for. 

Another Striking application of the propaganda model can be seen in 
the media's treatment of the chemical industry and its regulation. Be- 
cause of the industry's power, as well as the media's receptivity to the 
demands of the business community, the media have normalized a 
system described by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring as "deliberately poi- 
soning us, then policing the results."'-* Industry is permitted to produce 
and sell chemicals (and during the 1990s, bioengineered foods) without 
independent and prior proof of safety, and the "policing" by the Environ- 
mental Protection Agency (EPA) has been badly compromised by under- 
funding and political limits on both law enforcement and testing, no A 
major National Research Council study of 1984 found that there was no 
health hazard data available for 78 percent ofthe chemicals in commerce, 
and an Environmental Defense Fund update found little change had 
occurred a dozen years laler. The federal government's National Toxicol- 
ogy Program tests about ten to twenty chemicals a year for carcinogenic- 
ity (but not for the numerous other possible adverse effects of chemicals); 
but meanwhile five hundred to a thousand new chemicals enter com- 
merce annually, so our knowledge base steadily declines. 131 

This system works well for industry, however, as it wants to sell with- 
out interference, and leaving virtually aU of the research and testing 
for safety in its hands, with its members to decide when the results are 
worthy of transmission to the EPA, is a classic "fox guarding the chick- 
ens" arrangement. The system has worked poorly for the public, and its 
inadequacy has been reinforced by the industry's power to influence, 
sometimes even capture, the EPA.132 Nevertheless, the industry often 
contends that the safety ofchemicals is assured by EPA (or FDA) regula- 
tion, 133 which industry does its best to keep weak and which, as noted, 
has failed to deal in any way with the great majority of chemicals in the 

With the media's help, the chemical industry has also gained wide 
acceptance of its view that chemicals should be evaluated individually 
on the basis of an analysis of their risks to individuals and individual 
tolerances. But it is very hard to measure such risks and tolerances for 
humans — controlled experiments are not possible, damage may show up 
only after many years, the forms of damage are hard to know in advance, 
chemicals may interact with others in the environment, they may be bio- 


accumulative, and the breakdown products of chemicals may have their 
own dangers. Furthermore, if thousands of chemicals enter the environ- 
ment, many long-lasting, bioaccumulative, and interacting with other 
chemicals, a public policy that ignores theii additive and interactive ef- 
fects on people and the environment is deeply flawed and irresponsible. 

Poiicy based on the "precautionary principle," bitterly opposed by the 
chetnica] industry, with the support of the U.S. government,'^'* would 
nor allow chemicals to enter the environment without full tesring, would 
prohibit the use of chemicals that accumulate in human tissues and 
whose breakdown products are threatening or unknown, and would 
compel the use of nonthreatening alternatives for untested and known- 
to-be-risky chemicals where such alternatives can be found or developed 
at reasonable cOSt.135 

In successfully avoiding application of the precautionary principle, 
industry spokespersons have argued that the existing system is based on 
"sound science." But science does not tell us that industry has any right 
to put chemicals into the environment that have any risk at all, let alone 
telling us what risks are acceptable-these are political decisions. Fur- 
thermore, if the chemicals in the environment have not been tested for all 
the variables that are relevant to social choices, such as their long-term 
effects on immune systems and reproduction as well as any cancer threat, 
and the effects of their breakdown products on the environment-and 
none of them have been so tested-the political, not scientific, basis of 
"sound science" is evident. 

The chemical industry has produced, and long denied any harm from, 
innumerable products-from tetraethyl lead in gasoline and PCBs in 
batteries to asbestos, DDT, and Agent Orange-that are now well estab- 
lished as seriously harmful, only withdrawing them (often only from 
domestic use) under overwhelming legal and regulatory pressure. For 
the products they have wanted to sell, they have always found scientists 
who would testify to their harmlessness (or that claims of harm were 
not scientifically proven). There has been a consistent sharp difference 
between the results of industry-sponsored science and those of inde- 
pendent researchers working the same terrain."* And there have been 
numerous cases of fraud in industry testing, industry use of testing labs 
that arranged the data to find industry products acceptable, and political 
manipulation to weaken regulatory standards. '37 

Despite these industry abuses of science, the media have largely ac- 
cepted the industry's claim that it supports "sound science," in contrast 
with its critics' use of "junk, science." From 1996 through September 
1998, 258 articles in mainstream newspapers used the phrase "junk sci- 
ence"; but only 21, or 8 percent, used it to refer to corporate abuses of 


science, whereas 160, or 62 percent, applied it to science used by envi- 
ronmentalists, other corporate critics, or tort lawyers suing corporations 
(77, or 30 percent, didn't fit either of these categories). 138 In short, the 
media have internalized mdiistr>''s self-legitimizing usage, just as they 
have normalized a status quo of caveat emptor (buyer beware) rather 
than of safety first. 

The media have also regularly gotten on board in dismissing concerns 
about chemical threats as unwarranted "scares," such as the alleged scares 
over dioxin and the danger of Aiai on apples. But thes-e and other scares 
often turn out to be based on genuine health hazards. '3« Meanwhile, the 
media rarely report and examine in any depth the frequent evidence of 
the inadequacy of regulation and testing and of the real costS of chemical- 
ization of the environmenr.WO por example, the International Joint Com- 
mission (IIC), a joint Canadian-U.S. venture dating back to 1978, was 
given the formidable task of trying to halt the flow oftoxic chemicals into 
the Great Lakes. It reports each year that it is failing, and since t992 has 
called for the ending of the manufacture of chlorine as essential to fulfill- 
ing its task. The national media virtually ignore this appeal, and the IJC's 
U.S. cochairman Gordon Durnil has remarked that "we have a societal 
problem about how to deal with this, but 90 percent of the population 
doesn't even know there is anything to worry about. "J41 We believe that 
the propaganda model helps understand this lack ofknowledge. 

In the health insurance controversy of 1992-93, the media's refusal 
to take the single-payer option seriously, despite apparent widespread 
public support and the effectiveness of the system in Canada, served well 
the interests of the insurance and medical service complex. 1^2 xhe un- 
Clitical media reponing and commentary on the alleged urgency of fiscal 
restraint and a balanced budget in the years 1992-96 fit well the business 
community's desire to reduce the social budget and weaken reguls- 
tion. i''^ Xhe media's gullibiliry in accepting the claim of a Social Security 
system "crisis," which would require policy action some thirty-seven 
years ahead if certain conservative guesses were true and a number of 
easy corrections were ruled out, served the interests ofconservative ideo- 
logues anxious to weaken a highly successful government program and a 
security industry eager to benefit from the partial or full privatization of 
Social Security. 144 The applicability of the propaganda model in these 
and other cases, including the media's handling of the "drug wars," 
seems clear, 

INTRaDueTION xlix 


The propaganda model remains a useful framework for analyzing and 
understanding the workings of the mainstream media-perhaps even 
more so than in 1988. As we noted above, the changes in structural con- 
ditions that underlie the model, and that we believe strongly and often 
decisively influence media behavior and performance, have tended to 
increase the model's salience. We noted in the Preface to the first edition 
and in chapters 2 and 3, in reference to the media's coverage of the wars 
and elections in Central America in the 1980s, that the media's perform- 
ance often surpassed expectations of media subservience to government 
propaganda demands. This was at least equally true of their performance 
in covering the 1991 war against Iraq and NATO's war against Yugo- 
slavia in 1999, as we have described earlier and briefly in regard to 
Yugoslavia and in detail elsewhere, ue 

In our conclusion to the first edition, we emphasized that, as the nega- 
tive performance effects of the media result primarily from their struc- 
ture and objectives, real change in performance calls for substantial 
changes in underlying media organization and goals. In the years since 
1988, structural changes have not been favorable to improved perform- 
ance, but it remains a central truth that democratic politics requires a 
democratization of information sources and a more democratic media. 
Along with trying to contain and reverse the growing centralization of the 
mainstream media, grassroots movements and intermediate groups that 
represent large numbers of ordinary citizens should put much more 
energy and money into creating and supporting their own media-as 
they did with the Independent Media Centers brought into existence 
during the Seattle and Washington, D.C., protests of 1999 and 2000. 
These, and other nonprofit community-based broadcasting stations and 
networks, and a better use of public-access channels, the Internet, and 
independent print media, will be essential for the achievement of major 
democratic social and political successes. 

Notes to Introduction 

1. On a number of issues, such as trade agreements, health care, and the 
appropriate size of the military budget, there is a sharp division between 
media personnel and the elite on the one hand and the general population on 
the other hand, as we discuss below under "Further Applications." 


2. This was even true in the Soviet Union, where the media's disclosure of 
inconvenient facts on the Afghan war caused the Soviet defense minister to 
denounce the press as unpatriotic; see Bill Keller, "Soviet Official Says Press 
Harms Army," Ncu>York Times, January 21, 1988. 

3. For an accounr of critiques, and the present writers' replies, see Noam 
Chomsky, Necessary Illusions (Boston: South End Press, 1989), appendix I; 
Edward S. Herman, "The Propaganda Model Revisited," in The Myth offhe 
LiberalMedia (New York: Peter Lang, 1999). 

4- Ben Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly, 6th ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 
2000), p. xxi. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Edward S. Herman and Robert McChesney, The Global Media (London: 

Cassell, 1997). 

7. Robert McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy (Urbana: University of 
Illinois Press, 2000), p. 108. 

8. Ibid., p. 109. 

9. James Ledbetter, "Public Broadcasting Sells; (Out?)," 77t« Naiwn, Decem- 
ber /, 1997. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Stephanie Strom, "Japanese Sites for Women Aim for Empowerment," 
New York Times, December 25, 2000. 

12. Mark Fineman, "Military Can't Outflank Rebels in War of Words," Los 
Angeles Times, February 21, 1995; Leonard Doyle, "Rebels Try to Advance via 
Internet," The ItKkpendem^ March 7, 1995. 

13. Jim Shultz, "Bolivia's Water War Victory," Earth Island Journal, Septem- 
ber 22, 2000; "Bolivia-The Last Word," April 13, 2000, J Shultz® democra-; "How the Internet Helped Activists," Straits Times (Singapore), May 
25, 1998; Marshall Clark, "Cleansing the Earth," Inside htdonesia (Octo- 
ber-December 1998). 

14. Madelaine Drohan, "How the Net Killed the .MAI," Globe andMail, April 

15. Kayte Van Scoy, "How Green Was My Silicon Valley," PC/Computing, 
March /, 2000; Keith Perine, "Power to the (Web-Enabled) People," Industry 
Standard, April lo, 2000. See also "Further Applications" below. 

16. James Ledbetter, "Some Pitfalls in Portals," Columbia Journalism Revieio 
(November-December 1999)- 

17. Quoted in ibid. 

18. Alex Carey, Taking the Risk out of Democracy (Urbana: University of Illi- 
nois Press, 5997); John Stauber and Sheldon R3inpton> Tmu SIvdga h Good 
for You.' (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995); Stuart Ewen, P/?' 
A Social History of Spin (New York: Basic Books, 1996). 

19. MarkDowie, "Introduction," Stauber and Rampton, Toxic Sludge. 

20. See Stephen Cohen, Failed Cruiade; America and the Tragedy ofPosr-Com- 
munist Russut (New York: Norton, 2000). See also Thomas Frank, One Mar- 
ker Under God (New York: Doubleday, 2000). 

21. Kevin Robins and Frank Webster, Times of the Technoculture (London: 
Routledge, 1999), p. 127. 

22. Patricia Aufderheide, "Journalism and Public Life Seen Through the 
'Net,'" in Aufderheide, The Daily Planet (Minneapolis: University of Min- 


nesota Press, 2000); Joseph Turow, Breaking Up Amen' ca (Chicago: Univer- 
siryofChicago Press, 1997). 

23. Herman and McChesney, Global Media, chapters. 

24. On the ideological messages borne in commercials, see Erik Barnouw, 
The Sponsor (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), part 2, chapter t. 

25. See Robert McChesney, 7efe£timm«tiicQl»ww, Moss Media, and Democracy 

(New York: Oxford, 1993). 

26. See Herman, Myth ofthe Liberal Mediae pp. 32-33. 

27. For some dramatic evidence on the mainstream media's neglect of these 
credible sources, see below, pp. 76-79. 

28. Peter Galbraith, "How the Turks Helped Their Enemies," New YoA 

Times, February 20, 1999. 

29. During the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein was a U.S. ally and recipient of 
U.S. aid, his use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in Iraq, which killed 
thousands in 1988, did not interfere with support by the Bush administration, 
which continued up to the moment of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on August 

30. 1990. See Mark Phythian, Arming Ira^: How the U.S. and Britain Secretly 
Built Saddam's War Machme (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997); 
Miron Rezun, Saddam Hussein's Gulf Wars: Ambivalent Stakes in the Middle 
East (Westport Conn.: Praeger, 1992). 

30. The CIA itself designated the 1965-66 slaughters in Indonesia as "one of 
the worst mass murders ofthe 20th century" (quoted in Robert Cribb, ed.. 
The Indonesian Killings 0/1965-1966 [Monash Papers on Southeast Asia, no. 
21,1991]). The figure of 500,000 victims in this slaughter, given by the head 
oflndonesian state security, must be taken as an absolute minimal figure. For 
other estimates that run up to 2 million, see Noam Chomsky and Edward 
Herman, The Waihmgtvn Connection and Third World Fascism (Boston: South 
End Press, 1979), pp. 20&-9; Benedict Anderson, "Fetrus Dadi Ratu," NcW 
Ufi Review (May- June, 2000). 

31. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Patrick Moynihan brags 
in his autobiography of how back in 1975 he protected Indonesia from any 
effective international action that might have interfered with its aggression: 
"The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly inef- 
fective in whatever measures it took [regarding the Indonesian invasion of 
East Timor]. This task was given to me, and 1 carried it forward with no in- 
considerable succeSs." He added, without the slightest expression of regret, 
that within a few weeks 60,000 people had been killed m this aggression that 
he was protecting. A Dangerous Place (New York: little. Brown, 1978), p. 19. 

32. For accounts of this shift, seeJohn Pilger, Hidden Agendas (London: Vin- 
tage, 1998), pp. 33-34; Chomsky, Necessary Illusions., pp. 109-10. For the ear- 
Uer media treatment of Indonesia in East Timor, see Washington Connection, 
pp. [29-204. 

33. John and Karl Mueller, "Sanctions of Mass Destruction," Foreign Ajfairs 
(May- June 1999), p. 43- 

34. UNICEF, "Iraq Surveys Show 'Humanitarian Emergency,'" Press 
Release, August 12, 1999. 

35. Leshe Stahl interviewing Madeleine Albright, "60 Minutes," CBS News 

Transcript, May 12, 1996. 

36. Many KLA. and Serb fighters died in Kosovo, and civiUans were killed by 


NATO bombs and military actions not aiming to kill civilians. See Jonathan 
Steele, "Figuies Put on Serb Killings Too High," Guardian (August 18, 
2000). For a fuller discussion, Noam Chomsky, A New Generation Drtnvs the 
Line (London: Verso, 2000), chapter 3. 

37. John Taylor, East Timor: The Price of Freedom (London: Zed, 1999). See 
also Arnold Kohen, "Beyond the Vote: The World Must Remain Vigilant 
Over East Timor," Washinglon Post, Septembers, 1999. 

38. The source is Western investigators on the scene, including U.S. military 
personnel: Linds3y Murdoch, "Horror Lives on for Town of Lquica," The 
Age (Australia), April 8, 1999; Barry Wain, "Will Justice Be Served in East 
Timor?" Wall Street Journal (Asia edition), April 17, 2000. 

39. On the importance of Racak as a basis for mobilizing U.S. allies and the 
public for war, see Barton Gellman, "The Path to Crisis: How the United 
States and Its Allies Went to War," Washington Post, April 18, 1999; Madeleine 
Albright referred to Racak as a "galvanizing incident" (quoted in Bo Adam, 
Roland Heine, and Claudius Technau, "1 Felt that Something Was Wrong," 
Berliner Zeitung, April 5, 2000). 

40. See Edward Herman and David Peterson, "CNN: Selling Nato's War 
Globally," in Philip Hammond and Edward Herman, eds.. Degraded Capabil- 
ity:The Media and the Kosovo Crisis (London: Pluto, 2000), PI'. 117-19. More 
recently, three Finnish forensic experts, who were members of a panel that 
examined the fort)' bodies found at Racak, disclosed that their team found 
no support for the alleged mutilations by the Serbs, and the data presented 
in the article casts further doubt on the claim that all the victims were exe- 
cuted. 0. Raina et al., "Independent Forensic AvUot J^ies. in Armed Conflict 
Investigation ofVictims from Racak, Kosovo," Forensic SCience International, 
vol. 16 (2001), pp. 171-85.) It is a notable fact that the OSeE has not yet seen 
fit to release the original forensic report from which this article's data is 

41. Herman and Peterson, "CNN: Selling Nato's War Globally." 

42. Editorial, "Election Risks in Cambodia," New York Times, November 28, 

43. "Gathering Storm in Serbia?" editohs], Vliishmgum Post, September 11, 
2000; "Repudiating IVIr. Milosevic," editorial, YfrkTimet^ September 26, 


44. Editorial, "Kenya's Flawed Election," New York Times, December 31, 

45. Editorial, "Mexico's Radical Insider," New YorkTimes, July 3, 1988. 

46. Editorial, "The Missing Reform in Mexico," New York Times, August 24, 

47. Editorial, "Turkey Approaches Democracy," New York Times, November 
II, 1983. 

48. Editorial, "Victories for Voters in Latin America: Uruguay's S/owBoatto 
Democracy," New York Times, December I, 1984. 

49. Editorial, "A Victory for Russian Democracy," New York Times, July 4, 

50. "And the Winner Is?" Moscow Times, September 9, 2000. See also Matt 
Taibbi, "OSCE-The OrganizstioD for Sanctioning Corrupt Elections;' The 
Exile, Issue no. 18/99, September 14-28, 2000. 

INrRoDucrlON !iii 

51. Of the major mainstream media, only the Los Angeles Times addressed its 
findings, with the article "Russia Election Chief Rejects Fraud Claims in 
Presidential Vote" (September 13, 2000); a title that features the rejoinder of 
Russian officials, not the charges themselves. For a discussion of this artide 
seeTaibbi, "OSCE". 

52. On the overall atrocious mainstream media reporting on the Russian eco- 
nomic and social collapse, as well as on the elections, see Stephen Cohen, 
Failed Crusade, chapter i. 

53. The Soviet Union did undoubtedly mistreat its own and dient-state 
peoples, although the treatment of Russians by the Western-backed "refonn- 
ers" since 1991 has hardly been an improvement. However the charge of 
sponsorship ofinternational terrorism was inflated and hypocritical given the 
West's support of its own very impressive terror networks. See Edward Her- 
man, The Real Terror Network (Boston: South End Press, X982); Noam 
Chomsky; Piraus and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World (New 
York: Claremont Research, 1986). 

54. See Edward S. Herman and Frank Brodhead, The Rise and Fall of the Bul- 
garian Connection (New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1986), chapter 5. 

55. The only mainstream report on Weinstein's return with "no startling reve- 
lations" (i.e., nothing), was R. C. Longworth, "Probe into '81 Pope Attack 
Shon of Funds," Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1994. 

56. See "The Gates Hearings: Excerpts from Senate Hearing of Nomination 
ofC.I.A. Chief," New York Times, October 2, i99i. 

57. See Edward S. Herman and Howard Friel, '"Stacking the Deck' on the 
Bulgarian Connection," Lies of Our Times (November 1991); Michael Ross, 
"Gates Corrupted CIA Intelligence, Ex-Officials Say," Los Angeles Times, 
October 2, 1991; Benjamin Weiser, "Papal-Shooting Analysis: Case Study in 
Slanting?" Washington Post, October I, 1991. 

58. Editorial, "The Fingerprints on Agca's Gun," New York Times, October 
30, 1984- 

59. Barbara Crossette, "Hanoi Said to Vow to Give M.I.A. Data," New York 
Times, October 24, 1992. 

60. For mstny years U.S. officials used the claim that Vietnam had nol ac- 
counted for all U.S. prisoners of war and M.I.A.s to justify hostile actions 
toward that country. This is discussed later in this Introduction, under "Re- 
writing Viernam War History," and in the main text, pp. 240-41. 

61. Leslie Gelb, "When to Forgive and Forget: Engaging Hanoi and Other 
Outlaws," Neti' York Times, April IS, 1993. 

62. Quoted in William Buckingham, Jr., Operation Ranch Hand: TheAir Force 
and Herbicides in Southeast Asia, 1961-1971 (Washington: U.S. Air Force, 
1982), p. 82. 

63. See Arthur Westing, ed.. Herbicides in Wbr:The Long-Term Ecological and 
Human Consequences (Stockholm: SIPRI, 1984), pp. 5ff; Hatfield Consul- 
rants Ltd., Devehpm£?}i of Impact Miltgatiati Strategies Related to ike Use of 
Agent Orange Herbicide in cheAluoi liiltey, Viet Nam, vol. 1 (West Vancouver, 
B.C., April 2000). 

64. Buckingham, Operation Ranch Hand, p. 127. 

65- Cited in Seymour Hersh, Chemical and Biologicai Waifare (Indianapo- 
lis: Babbs-Merrill, 1968), p. 153. See also J, B. Neilands et al.. Harvest of 


Death: Chemical Vfbrfan in Vietnam and Cambodia (New York: Free Press, 

66. First use of chemicals is contrary to the Geneva Protocol of 1925, and 

food crop destruction violates numerous international rules of war. The latter 
was even illegal according to the rules jgid out in the U.S. Army's own field 
manual in use during the Vietnam war. See Edward Herman, Atrocitiet in 
Vietnam (Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1910), pp. 81-83. 

67. Harvard University physician Jean Mayer, "Crop Destruction in Viet- 
nam," Science (April 15, 1966). 

68. AlistairHay, The Chemical Scythe: Lessons of 2^^,yT and Dwxm (New York: 
Plenum Publishing, 1982), pp. 187-94. 

69. General Assembly Resolution 2603A (XXIV), December i6, 1969, 
"viewed with horror" and strongly condemned the U.S. chemical war. 

70. Peter Waldman, "Body Count: In Vietnam, the Agony of Birth Defects 
Calls an Old War to Mind," Wall Street Journal, December iz.^ 1997. 

71. Barbara Crossette, "Study ofDioxin's Effect in Vietnam Is Hampered by 
Diplomatic Freeze," New York Times, August 19, 1992. 

72. Matthew Meselson, Julian Robinson and Jeanne Guillemin, "Yellow 
Rain: The Story Collapses," Foreign Policy (Fall 1987), pp. 100-117; Edward 
S. Herman, "The WaJJ Street Journal as a Propaganda Agency," in Herman, 
Myth of the Liberal Media, pp. 103-10. 

73. Peter Kann, "Clinton Ignores History's Lessons in Vietnam," Wall Street 
Journal, September 9 ■. 1992. 

74. When Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran and his 
indigenous Kurds in the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush administrations made 
no protests and continued to treat him as a valued ally. It was only after he 

invaded Kuwait in 1990 that he became a menace and his possession of 
"weapons of mass destruction" was deemed intolerable. See citations in note 
29 above. 

75. In 1999, Uoyd Gardner found that the Barnes & Noble Web site con- 
tained 1,920 titles on some aspect of the Vietnam war and over S,c>oo out-of- 
print and used books on that topic. "Going Back to Vietnam for a Usable 
Past," Newsday, November 14, 1999 (a review of Michael Lind's Necessary 

76. For this viewpoint, see Michael Crozier, Samuel Huntington, and Joji 
Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy (New York: New York University Press, 

77. Robert McNamara, In Rerrospect:The Tragedy atid Lessons ofVietnam (New 
York: Vintage Books, 1996). 

78. For details and analysis of this onslaught on the people of South Vietnam, 
see Eric Bergerud, The Dynamics of Defeat (Boulder, Colo: Westview, 1991); 
Chomsky and Herman, Was-huigton Connection, chap. 5; Bernard Fall, "2000 
Years of War in Vietnam," Horizon (Spring 1967), reprinted in Fall, Last 
Reflections on a Vfiir (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967); Jeffrey Race, War Comes 
to Long A" (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971); Jonathan Schell, 
The Military Half: An Account ofDenruciwn :?} Quang Nga! and Quang Tin 
(New York: Vintage, 1968). 

79. H. Bruce Franklin, "Antiwar and Proud oflt," 7S« Naiw/j, December ii, 


80. Both Time and Newsweek, in their twenty-fifth-anniversary retrospectives 
on the war, featured the exit at war's end and the "desperate South Viet- 
namese" seeking escape from "the invading North Vietnamese." Douglas 
Brinkley, "Of Ladders and Letters," Time, April 24, 2000; also, Evan 
Thomas, "The Last Days of Saigon," Newsweek, May I, 2000. A 1995 Wash- 
ington Poif editorial speaks ofthe Vietnam war as a "defeat to the Vietnamese. 
They bled, died and finally fled in great numbers from a Communist regime. 
..." (April 30, 1995), characteristically not allowing the vast majority ofpeo- 
pie in South Vietnam to be "South Vietnamese." 

81. McNamara, In Retrospect, p. 319. 

82. Full analyses of this history, and the lack of evidence, are provided in 

H. Bruce Franklin, M.l.A,, or, Mythmaking in America (Brooklyn, N.Y: Law- 
rence Hill Books, 1992), and Viernam and Other American Fantaiiei (Am- 
herst: University ofMassachusetts Press, 2000). 

83. Franklin, Vietnam and Other American Fantasies, p. 183. 

84. For a discussion, which stresses the underreported dissident movement 
within the armed forces, see ibid., pp. 61-62. 

85. M.ichael Lind, The Necessary War (New York: Free Press, 1999). 

86. Gardner, "Going Back to Vietnam for a Usable Past." 

87. Barry Wain, "The Deadly Legacy of War in Laos," Asian Wall StreetJour- 
nal, January 24, 1997; Ronald Podlaski, Veng Saysana, and James Forsyth, 
Accidental Massacre: American Air^Dropped Somblers Have Continued to Maim 
and Slaughter Thousands of Innocent Victims, Mainly Children, for the Last 2] 
Yexirs in Indochina (Humanitarian Liaison Services, Warren, Vr. 1997). These 
three authors, who have worked in Laos, believe the official figure of 20,000 
annual casualties is too low. 

88. Daniel Pruzin, "US. Clears Laos ofthe Unexploded," Christian Science 
Monitor, September 9, 1996. 

89. Keith Graves, "US. Secrecy Puts Bomb Disposal Team in Danger," Sun- 
day Telegraph, January 4, 1998. 

90. Quoted in Strobe Talbott, "Defanging the Beast," Time, February 6, 

91. See Ben Kiernan, "The Inclusion ofthe Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian 
Peace Process: Causes and Consequences," in Kiernan, ed., Genocide and 
Democracy in Cambodia (New Haven: Yale Council on Southeast Asia Stud- 
ies, 1993), pp. 199-272. 

92. A study sponsored by the Finnish government was titled Kampuchea: 
Decade ofthe Genocide (London: Zed, 1984). It included the years 1970-74, 
when the United Stares was heavily bombing the Cambodian countryside, as 
part ofthe decade of genocide. This study was ignored in the US. main- 
stream media. 

93. "Cambodia's Dictator," editorial, Waihington Post, February 10, 1998. 

94. See Edward Herman, Myth ofthe Liberal Media, chapter 16, "Suharto: 
The Fall of a Good Genocidist"; Edward Herman and David Peterson, 
"How the New York Times Protects Indonesian Terror in East Timor," Z Mag- 
azine Ouly-August 1999). On the massive scale ofthe Suharto killings, see 
note 30 above. 

95. For these and other citations, see Herman, Myth ofthe Liberai Media, 
chapter 16. 


96. Seth Mydans, "Indonesia's Rising Prosperity Feeds a Parry for Democ- 
racy," New YorkTimes, June 21,1996. 

97. Herman and Peterson, "How the New York Times Protects Indonesian 

98. Ibid. 

99. James Reston, "A Gleam of Light," New York Times, June 19, 1966. 

100- David Sanger, "Indonesia Faceoff: Drawing Blood Without Bombs," 

Neiu York Times, March 8,1998. 

101. Thomas Ferguson, Golden Rule (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 
1995), pp. 28-29. 

102. For a major study, see Steven KuH, "Americans on Defense Spending: A 
Study of US. Public Attitudes, " Report of Findings, Center for Study of Pub- 
lic Attitudes, January 19, 1996. On public opposition [o excessive defense 
spending even during the Reagan era, see Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers, 
RightTurn (New York: Hill &Wang, 1986), pp. 19-24. 

103. The two major parties offer voters "a clear-cut choice," so there is "no 
driving logic for a third-party candidacy this year," according to the editors of 
the New York Times: "Mr. Nader's Misguided Crusade," June 10, 2000. 

104. Especially after World War II, the military budget, and therefore the tax- 
payer, financed a very large fraction of the basic science that underpinned 
advances in the aircraft, computer, and electronics industries, the Internet 
economy, mostof the biotech industry, and many others. 

105. On the public opposition to the NAFTA agreement, see Herman, Myth 
of the Liberal Media, pp. 185-86. A Business It^fee^/Harris poll in early zooo 
revealed that only 1 0 percent of those polled called themselves "ftee traders " ; 
5i percent called themselves "fair traders" and 37 percent "protectionists." 
"Harris Poll: Globalization: What Americans Are Worried About," Business 
HSfeefe, April 24, 2000. 

106. For more extended accounts, see Herman, Myth ofEhe Liberal Media, 
chapter 14; Thea Lee, "False Prophets: The Selling of NAFTA,' Briefing 
Paper, Economic Policy Institute, 1995; John McArthur, The Selling of "Free 
Trade" (New York: Hill & Wang, 2000). 

107. Thomas Lueck, "The Free Trade Accord: The New York Region," New 

YorkTimes, November 18, 1993. 

108. Editorial, "NAFTA's True Importance," New York Times, November x4, 

109. On the refusal of the administration to allow any labor inputs in arriving 
at the NAFTA agreement, contrary to law, and the media's disinterest in this 
as well as any other undemocratic features of the creation of this and other 
trade agreements, see Noam Chomsky, Vdirld Orders Old and New (New 
York; Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 164-78. 

110. See Herman, Myth afthe Liberal Media, pp. 183-85. 

111. Citations from Seth Ackerman, "Prattle in Seattle: WTO coverage Mis- 
represented Issues, Protests," EX7R/A. 'Ganuary-February 2000), pp. 13-17. 

112. Rachel Coen, "For Press, Magenta Hair and Nose Rings Defined 
Protests," EXTRA.' (July-August 2000). An exception at the time of the 
Washington meetings and protests was Eric Pooley's "IMF: Dr. Death?" 
Time, April Z4, 2000. 


113. See Walden Bello, "Why Reform of the WTO Is the Wrong Agenda" 
(Global Exchange; 2000). 

114. Edward P. Morgan, "From Virtual Community lOVinual History: Mass 
Media and the American Antiwar Movement in the 1960s," Radical History 
Review (Fal 12000); Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching (Berkeley: Uni- 
versity of California Press, 1980). 

115. Rachel Coen, "Whitewash in Washington: Media Provide Cover as 
Police MilnarizesL nc," EXTRA.' Guly-August 2000); Ackerman, "Prattle 
in Seattle"; Neil deMause, "Pepper Spray Gets in Their Eyes: Media Missed 
Militarization ofPolice Work in Seattle," EXTRA! (March- April 2000). 

116. Coen, Ackerman, and deMause items cited in note 115. 

117. Nichole Christian, "Police Brace for Protests in Windsor and Detroit," 
New York Times, June 3, 2000. 

118. CBS Evening News Repon, April 6, 2000. 

119. Zachary Wolfe, National Lawyers Guild legal observer coordinator, con- 
cluded that "police sought to create an atmosphere of palpable fear," and that 
snyone even trying to hear dissident views ran a risk of police violence "just 
for being in the area where speech was taking place." Quoted in Coen, 
"Whitewash in Washington." 

120. See Rachel Coen, "Free Speech Since Seattle: Law Enforcement's 
Attacks on Activists-and Journalists— Increasing.'* EXTRA.' November- 
December 2000. 

121. See Frank Donner, Protectors ofPrivilege: Red Squads and Police Repression 
in UrbanAmerica (Berkeley: Universitj' of California Press, 1990); Elizabeth 

Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Entcrprhe: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberal- 
ism, 1945—60 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994); William Puette, 
Through Jaundiced Eyes: How the Media View Organized Labor (Ithaca: Cornell 
University Press, 1992). 

122. Kim Moody, Woi-kers in a Lean V^rld (London: Verso, 1997), p. 24. 

123. Aaron Bernstein, "The Workplace: Why America Needs Unions, But 
Not the Kind It Has Now," Business Week, May 23, 1994. 

124. See Jonathan Tasini, Lost in the Margins: Labor and the Media (New York: 
FAIR, 1990), pp. 7-9- 

125. Jared Bernstein, Lawrence Mishel, and Chauna Brocht, "Any Way You 
Cut It: Income Inequality on the Rise Regardless of How It's Measured," 
Briefing Paper, Economic Policy Institute, 2000. 

126. Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and John Schmitt, The State ofWbrk- 
ingAmerica, 2000-2001 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 20CI), p. 120. 

127. Marc Miringoff and Marque-Luisa Miringoff, The Social Health of the 
Nation: How America Is Really Doing (New York: Oxford University Press, 
1999). This study shows that an index of social health indicators moves with 
GDP until the mid-1970s, after which GDP continues to grow but a "social 
recession" ensues, with only a slight interruption in the early 1990s. 

128. See, among others, Gerald Baker, "Is This Great, Or What?" Financial 
Times, March 31, 1998; Richard Stevenson, "The Wisdom to Let the Good 
Times Roll," New York Times, December 25, 2000. There were, however, 
occasional cautionary notes, as in Anne Adams Lang, "Behind the Prosper- 
ity, Working People in Trouble," New York Times, November 20, 2000. 


129. Rachel Carson, Stiem Spring (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1962), p. 183. 

130. See Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle, Toxic Deception: How the Chemical 
Jnduitry Manipulalas Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health 
(Secaucus, N.J.: Birch Lane Press, 1996), chapters 4, 5. 

131. Joe Thornton, Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmen- 
tal Strategy (Camhndgt: MIT Press, 2000), p. 100. 

132. Fagin and Lavelle, Toxic Deception^ chapters 4, 5; Edward Herman, "Cor- 
porate Junk Science in [he Media," chapter 17 in Herman, Myth olthe Liberal 
Media, pp. 240--44. 

133. The publicity director of Monsanto, Phil Angell, stated that "our interest 
is in selling as much of it [a bie-engineered product] as possible. Assuring its 
safety is the ED.A.'s job." Quoted in Michael PoUan, "Playing God in the 
G&rd&n," New YorkTimes Magazine, October 25, 1998. 

134. At the January 2000 meeting on the biosafety protocol, the U.S. govern- 
ment's insistence on WTO "good science," while the European Union was 
urging application of the precautionary principle, almost broke up the meet- 
ing. Andrew Pollack, "130 Nations Agree on Safety Rules for Biotech Food," 
New York Times, January 30, 2000; Pollack, "Talks on Biotech Food Turn on a 
Safety Principle," New Vorh Times, January 28, 2000. 

135. For a good discussion of the case for application of the precautionary 
principle, see Thornton, Pandora's Poison, chapters 9-1 1. 

136. Fagin-Lavelle, Toxic Deception, chapters 3-5; Herman, "Corporate Junk 
Science," pp. 232-34, 237-43, 

137- Fagin-Lavelle, Toxic Deception^ chapter 3; Herman, "Corporate Junk Sci* 
ence,'" pp. 232-34. 

138. Herman, "Corporate Junk Science," p. 235. 

139. Ibid., pp. 245-48. 

140. Ibid., pp, 234-44. 

141. Ibid., p. 240; see also Thornton, Pandora's Poison, chapter 9. 

142. John Canham-Clyne, "Health Care Reform: Not JoumalititicaHy 
Viable," EX7R/A. ' Guly-August 1993); Canham-CIyne, "When 'Both Sides' 
Aren't Enough; The Restricted Debate over Health Care Reform," EXTRA! 
Ganuary-February 1994); Vicente Navarro, The Politics of Health Policy: The 
US. Reforms, I980-I994 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994). 

143. See Bagdikian, Media Monopoly, pp. xxvii-xxix, 

144. See Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot, Social Security: The Phony Crisis 
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 

145. Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy (London: Verso, 1991), pp. 114- 

146. Noam Chomsky, "The Media and the War: What War?" in Hamid 
Mowlana et i\.,Tri-uynph oflht Image: The Media'i War in ihs- Persian Gulf— 
A Global Perspective (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1992); Douglas Kellner, 
The Persian Gulf TV War (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1992); Chomsky, The 
Nm> Military Humanism (Monroe, Maine; Common Courage Press, 1999); 
Edward Herman, "The Media's Role in U.S. Foreign Policy; The Persian 
Gulf War," in Herman, Myth of the Liberal Media, chapter 12; Philip Ham- 
mond and Edward Herman, eds.. Degraded Capability: The Media and the 
KoiovoCrisis (London: Pluto, 2000). 


In this book, we sketch out a "propaganda MODEL" AND 
apply it to the performance of the mass media of the United States. 
This effort reflects our belief, based on many years of study of the 
workings of the media, that they serve to mobilize support for the 
special interests that dominate the state and private activity,! and that 
their choices, emphases, and omissions can often be understood best, 
and sometimes with striking clarity and insight, by analyzing them in 
such terms. 

Perhaps this is an obvious point, but the democratic postulate is that 
the media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting 
the tTUth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful 
groups wish it to be perceived. Leaders of the media claim that their 
news choices rest on unbiased professional and objective criteria, and 
they have support for this contention in the intellectual cornrnunity.2 
If, however, the powerful are able to fix the premises of discourse, to 
decide what the general populace is allowed to see, hear, and think 
about, and to "manage" public opinion by regular propaganda cam- 
paigns, the standard view of how the system works is at serious odds 
with reality.) 

The s^cia] .imponance of propaganda in what Walter Lippmann 
referred to as the "manufacture of consent" has long been recognized 
by writers on public opinion, propaganda, and the political require- 
ments of social order.'' Lippmann himself, writing in the early 1920S, 
claimed that propaganda had already become "a regular organ of popu- 
lar government," and was steadily increasing in sophistication and im- 
portance. ^ We do not contend that this is all the mass media do, but 
we believe the propaganda function to be a very important aspect of 
their overall service. In the first chapter we spell out a propaganda 
model, which describes the forces that cause the mass media to playa 


propaganda role, the processes whereby they mobihze bias, and the 
patterns of news choices that ensue. In the succeeding chapters we try 
to demonstrate the applicability of the propaganda model to the actual 
performance of the media. 

Institutional critiques such as we present in this book are commonly 
dismissed by establishment commentators as "conspiracy theories," but 
this is merely an evasion. We do not use any kind of "conspiracy" 
hypothesis to explain mass-media performance. In fact, our treatment 
is much closer to a "free market" analysis, with the results largely an 
outcome of the workings of market forces. Most biased choices in the 
media arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized 
preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of 
ownership, organization, market, and political power. Censorship is 
largely self-censorship, by reporters and commentators who adjust to 
the realities of source and media organizational requirements, and by 
people at higher levels within media organizations who are chosen to 
implement, and have usually internalized, the constraints imposed by 
proprietary and other market and governmental centers of power. 

There are important actors who do take positive initiatives to define 
and shape the news and to keep the media in line. It is a "guided market 
system" that we describe here, with the guidance provided by the 
government, the leaders of the corporate community, the top media 
owners and executives, and the assorted individuals and groups who are 
assigned or allowed to take constructive initiatives.* These initiators are 
sufficiently small in number to be able to act jointly on occasion, as do 
sellers in markets with few rivals. In most cases, however, media leaders 
do similar things because they see the world through the same lenses, 
are subject to similar constraints and incentives, and thus feature stories 
or maintain silence together in tacit collective action and leader- 
follower behavior. 

The mass media are not a solid monolith on all issues. Where the 
powerful are i n disagreement,, there will be a certain diversity of tactical 
judgments on how to attain generally shared aims, reflected in media 
debate. But views that challenge fundamental premises or suggest that 
the observed modes of exercise of state power are based on systemic 
factors wiU be excluded from the mass media even when elite contro- 
versy over tactics rages fiercely. 

We will study a number of such cases as we proceed, but the pattern 
is, in fact, pervasive. To select an example that happens to be dominat* 
ing the news as we write, consider the portrayal of Nicaragua, under 
attack by the United States. In this instance, the division of elite opin- 
ion is sufficiently great to allow it to be questioned whether sponsorship 


of a terrorist army is effective in making Nicaragua "more democratic" 
and "less of a threat to its neighbors." The mass media, however, rarely 
if ever entertain opinion, or allow their news columns to present materi- 
als suggesting that Nicaragua is more democratic than El Salvador and 
Guatemala in every non-Orwellian sense of the word;? that its govern- 
ment does not murder ordinary citizens on a routine basis, as the 
governments of E1 Salvador and Guatemala dO;8 that it has carried out 
socioeconomic reforms important to the majority that the other two 
governments somehow cannot attempt;' that Nicaragua poses no mili- 
tary threat to its neighbors but has, in fact, been subjected to continu- 
ous attacks by the United States and its clients and surrogates; and that 
the U.S. fear of Nicaragua is based more on its virtues than on its 
alleged defects. ^° The mass media also steer clear of discussing the: 
background and results of the closely analogous attempt of the United 
States to bring "democracy" to Guatemala in 1954 by means of a 
CIA-sponsored invasion, which terminated Guatemalan democracy fot 
an indefinite period. Although the United States supported elite rule 
and helped to organize state terror in Guatemala (among many other 
countries) for decades, actually subverted or approved the subversion 
of democracy in Brazil, Chile, and the Philippines (again, among oth- 
ers)> is "constructively engaged" with terror regimes on a global basis, 
and had no concern about democracy in Nicaragua as long as the brutal 
Somoza regime was firmly in power, nevertheless the media take gov- 
ernment claims of a concern for "democracy" in Nicaragua at face 

Elite disagreement over tactics in dealing with Nicaragua is reflected 
in public debate, but the mass media, in conformity with elite priorities, 
have coalesced in processing news in a way that fails to place U.S. 
policy into meaningful context, systematically suppresses evidence of 
U.S. violence and aggression, and puts the Sandinistas in an extremely 
bad light. 12 In contrast. El Salvador and Guatemala, with far worse 
records, are presented as struggling toward democracy under "moder- 
ate" leaders, thus meriting sympathetic approval. These practices have 
not only distorted public perceptions of Central American realities, 
they have also seriously misrepresented U.S. policy objectives, an es- 
sential feature of propaganda, as Jacques Ellul stresses: 

The propagandist naturally cannot reveal the true intentions of 

the principal for whom he acts That would be to submit the 

projects to public discussion, to the scrutiny ofpublic opinion, and 

thus to prevent their success Propaganda must serve instead 

as a veil for such projects, masking true intention. i3 


The power of the government to fix frames of reference and agendas, 
and to exclude inconvenient facts from public inspection, is also im- 
pressively displayed in the coverage of elections in Central America, 
discussed in chapter 3, and throughout the analysis of particular cases 
in the chapters that follow. 

When there is liuJc or no elite dissent from a government policy, 
there may still be some shppage in the mass media, and facts that tend 
to undermine the government line, if they are properly undersrood, can 
be found, usually on the back pages of the newspapers. This is one of 
the strengths of the U.S. system. It is possible that the volume of 
inconvenient facts can expand, as it did during the Vietnam War, in 
response to the growth of a critical constituency (which included elite: 
elements from 1968). Even in this exceptional case, however, it was very 
rare for news and commentary to find their way into the mass media 
if they failed to conform to the framework of established dogma (post- 
ulating benevolent U.S. aims, the United States responding to aggres- 
sion and terror, etc.), as we discuss in chapter 5. During and after the 
Vietnam War, apologists for state policy commonly pointed to the 
inconvenient facts, the periodic "pessimism" of media pundits, and the 
debates over tactics as showing that the media were "adversarial" and 
even "lost" the war. These allegations are ludicrous, as we show in 
detail in chapter 5 and appendix 3, but they did have the dual advantage 
of disguising the actual role of the mass media and, at the same time, 
pressing the media to keep even more tenaciously to the propaganda 
assumptions of state pohcy. We have long argued that the "naturalness" 
of these processes, with inconvenient facts allowed sparingly and within 
the proper framework of assumptions, and fundamental dissent virtu- 
ally excluded from the mass media (but permitted in a marginalized 
press), makes for a propaganda system that is far more credible and 
effective in putting over a patriotic agenda than one with official censor- 

In criticizing media priorities and biases we often draw on the media 
themselves for at least some of the facts. This affords the opportunity 
for a classic non sequitur, in which the citations of facts from the 
mainstream press by a critic of the press is offered as a triumphant 
"proof" that the criticism is self-refuting, and that media coverage of 
disputed issues is indeed adequate. That the media provide some facts 
about an issue, however, proves absolutely nothing about the adequacy 
or accuracy of that coverage. The mass media do, in fact, literally 
suppress a great deal, as we will describe in the chapters that follow. 
But even more important in this context is the question of the attention 


given to a fact-its placement, tone, and repetitions, the framework of 
analysis within which it is presented, and the related facts that accom- 
pany it and give it meaning (or preclude understanding). That a careful 
reader looking for a fact can sometimes find it with diligence and a 
skeptical eye tells us nothing about whether that fact received the 
attention and context it deserved, whether it was intelligible to the 
reader or effectively distorted or suppressed. What level of attention it 
deserved may be debatable, but there is no merit to the pretense that 
becaus.e. cjewitin. fiwas. mBJj Iw. ftmnd. in. the. medi/L hjj «l (iiliijfjW. and. 
skeptical researcher, the absence of radical bias and de facto suppres- 
sion is thereby demonstrated.'* 

One of our central themes in this book is that the observable pattern 
of indignant campaigns and suppressions) of shading and emphasis, and 
of selection of context, premises, and general agenda, is highly func- 
tional for established power and responsive to the needs of the govern- 
ment and major power groups. A constant focus on victims of 
communism helps convince the public of enemy evil and sets the stage 
for intervention, subversion, support for terrorist states, an eiiditss 
arms race, and military conflict-all in a noble cause. At the same time) 
the devotion of our leaders and media to this narrow set of victims 
raises public self-esteem and patriotism) as it demonstrates the essential 
humanity of country and people. 

The public does not notice the silence on victims in client states) 
which is as important in supporting state policy as the concentrated 
focus on enemy victims. It would have been very difficult for the 
Guatemalan government to murder tens of thousands over the past 
decade if the U.S. press had provided the kind of coverage they gave 
to the difficulties of Andrei Sakharov or the murder of Jerzy Popie- 
luszko in Poland (see chapter 2). It would have been impossible to 
wage a brutal war against South Vietnam and the rest of Indochina, 
leaving a legacy of misery and destruction that may never be over- 
come, if the media had not rallied to the cause, portraying murderous 
aggression as a defense of freedom) and only opening the doors to 
latiitaj'uJsagrccmem wrTcn tiTc cosis lo cile liueresrs triey represent 
became too high. 

The same is true in other cases that we discuss, and too many that 
we do not. 

We would like to express our thanks to the following people for their 
assistance in the preparation of this book: James Aronson) Phillip Ber- 
ryman, Larry Biros, Frank Brodhead, Holly Burkhalter) Donna Cooper, 


Carol Fouke, Eva Gold, Carol Goslant, Roy Head, Mary Herman, Rob 
Kirsch, Robert Krinsky, Alfred McClung Lee, Kent MacDougall, 
Nejat Ozyegin, Nancy Peters, Ellen Ray, William Schaap, Karin Wil- 
kinSj Warren Wine, and Jamie Young. The authors alone remain re- 
sponsible for its contents. 



A Propaganda Model 

messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to 
amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the 
values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the 
institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated 
wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires 
systematic propaganda, i 

In countries where the levers of power are in the hands of a state 
ti\iyeaacracy;'Liili*iiTt>DOpt)nVfii;"vomrorVi9t:f-i/it'"iiTCarijY v^ri^fl-^oappiO* 
meoted by official censorship, makes it clear that the media serve the 
ends of a dominant elite. It is much more difficult to see a propaganda 
system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is 
absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, peri- 
odically attack and expose corporate and governmental maJfea^ance, 
and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and 
the general community interest. What is not evident (and remains 



undiscussed in the media) is the limited nature of such critiques, as well 
as the huge inequality in command of resources, and its effect both on 
access to a private media system and on its behavior and performance. 

A propaganda model focuses on this inequality of wealth and power 
and its multilevel effects on mass-media interests and choices. It traces 
the routes by which money and power are able to filter out the news 
fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and domi- 
nant private interests to get their messages across to the public. The 
essential ingredients of our propaganda model, or set of news "filters," 
fall under the following headings: (l) the size, concentrated ownership, 
owner wealth, and profit orientation ofthe dominant mass-media firms; 
(2) advertising as the primary income source ofthe mass media; (3) the 
reliance ofthe media on information provided by government, business, 
and "experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and 
agents of power; (4) "flak" as a means of disciplining the media; and 
^) "anticommunism" as a national religion and control mechanism. 
These elements interact with and reinforce one another. The raw mate- 
rial of news must pass through successive filters, leaving only the 
cleansed residue fit to print. They fix the premises of discourse and 
interpretation, and the definition of what is newsworthy in the first 
place, and they explain the basis and operations of what amount to 
propaganda campaigns. 

The elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissi- 
dents that results from the operation of these filters occurs so natu- 
rally that media news people, frequently operating with complete 
integrity and goodwill, are able to convince themselves that they 
choose and interpret the news "objectively" and on the basis of pro- 
fessional news values. Within the limits of the filter constraints they 
often are objective; the constraints are so powerful, and are built into 
the system in such a fundamental way, that alternative bases of news 
choices are hardly imaginable. In assessing the newsworthiness of the 
U.S. government's urgent claims of a shipment of MIGs to Nicaragua 
on November 5, 1984, the media do not stop to ponder the bias that 
is inherent in the priority assigned to government-supplied raw mate- 
rial, or the possibility that the government might be manipulating the 
news,^ imposing its own agenda, and deliberately diverting attention 
from other material,' It requires a macro, alongside a micro- (story- 
by-story), view of media operations, to see the pattern of manipula- 
tion and systematic bias. 

Let us turn now to a more detailed examination ofthe main constitu- 
ents of the propaganda model, which wiU be applied and tested in the 
chapters that follow. 




In their analysis of the evolution of the media in Great Britain, James 
Curran and Jean Seaton describe how, in the first half of the nineteenth 
century, a radical press emerged that reached a national working-class 
audience. This alternative press was effective in reinforcing class con- 
sciousness: it unified the workers because it fostered an alternative 
value system and framework for looking at the world, and because it 
"promoted a greater collective confidence by repeatedly emphasizing 
the potential power of working people to effect social change through 
the force of 'combination' and organized action. "4 This was deemed a 
major threat by the ruling elites. One MP asserted that the working- 
class newspapers "inflame passions and awaken their selfishness, con- 
trasting their current condition with what they contend to be their 
future condition- a condition incompatible with human nature, and 
those immutable laws which Providence has established for the regula- 
tion of civil society."5 The result was an attempt to squelch the work- 
ing-class media by libel laws and prosecutions, by requiring an 
expensive security bond as a condition for publication, and by imposing 
various taxes designed to drive out radical media by raising their costs. 
These coercive efforts were not effective, and by mid-century they had 
been abandoned in favor of the liberal view that the market would 
enforce responsibility. 

Curran and Seaton show that the market did successfully accomplish 
what state intervention failed to do. Following the repeal of the punitive 
taxes on newspapers between r853 and 1869, a new daily local press 
came into existence, but not one new local working-class daily was 
established through the rest of the nineteenth century. Curran and 
Seaton note that 

Indeed, the eclipse of the national radical press was so total that 
when the Labour Party developed out of the working-class move- 
ment in the first decade of the twentieth century, it did not obtain 
the exclusive backing of a single national daily or Sunday paper. « 

One important reason for this was the rise in scale of newspaper enter- 
prise and the associated increase in capital costs from the mid- 
nineteenth century onward, which was based on technological 



improvements along with tlie owners' increased stress on reaching large 
audiences. The expansion of the free market was accompanied by an 
"industrialization of the press." The total cost of establishing a national 
weekly on a profitable basis in 1837 was under a thousand pounds, with 
a break-even circulation of 6>2O0 copies. By 1867) the estimated start-up 
cost of a new London daily was 50,000 pounds. The Sunday Express, 
launched in 1918, spent over two million pounds before it broke even 
with a ckcuIatiQa of Q.v,ex ^5.0,000.' 

Similar processes were at work in the United States, where the 
start-up cost of a new paper in New York City in 1851 was 569,000; the 
public sale of the St. Louis Democrat in 1872 yielded $456,000; and city 
newspapers were selling at from $6 to $18 million in the 1920s.8 The cost 
of machinery alone, of even very small newspapers, has for many 
decades run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars; in 1945 it could 
be said that "Even small-newspaper publishing is big business . . . [and] 
is no longer a trade one takes up lightly even if he has substantial 
cash-or takes up at aU if he doesn't."9 

Thus the first filter-the limitation on ownership of media with any 
substantial outreach by the requisite large size of investment-was 
applicable a century or more ago, and it has become increasingly effec- 
tive over time. '° In 1986 there were some 1,500 daily newspapers, n,000 
magazines, 9,000 radio and I,sao TV stations, 2,400 book publishers, 
and seven movie studios in. the United States-over 25,000 media 
entities in all. But a large proportion of those among this set who were 
news dispensers were very small and local, dependent on the large 
national companies and wire services for all but local news. Many more 
were subject to common ownership, sometimes extending through vir- 
tually the entire set of media variants. 

Ben Bagdikian stresses the fact that despite the large media numbers, 
the twenty-nine largest media systems account for over half of the 
output of newspapers, and most of the sales and audiences in maga- 
zines, broadcasting, books, and movies. He contends that these "consti- 
tute a new Private Ministry of Information and Culture" that can set 
the national agenda. 

Actually, while suggesting a media autonomy from corporate and 
government power that we believe to be incompatible with structural 
facts (as we describe below), Bagdikian also may be understating the 
degree of effective concentration in news manufacture. It has long been 
noted that the media are tiered, with the tOp tier- as measured by 
prestige, resources, and outreach-comprising somewhere between ten 
and twenty-four systems.'^ It is this top tier, along with the government 
and wire services, that defines the news agenda and supplies much of 


the national and international news to the lower tiers of the media, and 
rhus for the general puhJic, '* Centralization within the top tier was 
substantially increased by the post-World War II rise of television and 
the national networking of this important medium. Pre-television news 
markets were local, even if heavily dependent on the higher tiers and 
a narrow set of sources for national and international news; the net- 
works provide national and international news from three national 
sources, and television is now the principal source of news for the 
public's The maturing of cable, however, has resulted in a fragmenta- 
tion of television audiences and a slow erosion of the market share and 
power of the networks. 

Table i-i provides some basic financial data for the twenty-four 
media giants (or their controlling parent companies) that make up the 
top tier of media companies in the United States.'^ This compilation 
includes: (I) the three television networks: ABC (through its parent. 
Capital Cities), CBS, and NBC (through its ultimate parent. General 
Electric fGEl); (2) the leading newspaper empires: York Times, 

Washington Post, Los Angeles Times (Times-Mirror), Wall Street Journal 
(Dow Jones), Knight-Ridder, Gannett, Hearst, Scripps-Howard, New- 
house (Advance Publications), and the Tribune Company; (3) the major 
news and general-interest magazines: Time, Newsweek (subsumed 
under Washington Post), Reader's Digest, TV Guide (Tdangle), and U.S. 
News & World Report; (4) a major book publisher (McGraw-Hill); and 
(5) other cable-TV systems of large and growing importance: those of 
Murdoch, Turner, Cox, General Corp., Taft, Storer,17 and Group W 
(Westinghoust). Many of these systems are prominent in more than one 
field and are only arbitrarily placed in a particular category (Time, Inc., 
is very important in cable as well as magazines; McGraw-Hill is a major 
publisher of magazines; the Tribune Company has become a large force 
in television as well as newspapers; Hearst is important in magazines 
as well as newspapers; and Murdoch has significant newspaper interests 
as well as television and movie holdings). 

These twenty-four companies are large, profit-seeking corporations, 
owned and controlled by quite wealthy people. It can be seen in table 
i-i that all but one of the top companies for whom data are available 
have assets in excess of $i billion, and the median size (middle item by 
size) is $2.6 billion. It can also be seen in the table that approximately 
three-quaners of these media giants had after-tax profits in excess of 
$100 million, with the median at $183 million. 

Many of the large media companies are fully integrated into the 
market, and for the others, too, the pressures of stockholders, directors, 
and bankers to focus on the bottom hne are powerful. These pressures 


TABLE 1-1 

Financial Data for Twenty-four 
Large Media Corporations 
(or Their Parent Firms), 
December 1986 






















Cox Communi- 






Dow Jones & 










General Electric 






















News Corp. 





New York 




























Time, Inc. 














Tribune Co. 











U.S. News & 





World Report* 





COMPANY ($ millions;) ($ millions;) ($ MILLIONS) (s millions;) 

Washington 1,145 205 100 J^15 

Westinghouse 8,482 801 670 10,731 

NA = not available 

t The a$«t tOtal is taken from Forbes magazine's wealth total for the New- 
house family for 1985; the total revenue is for media sales only, as reported 
Ln Advem:sing Age, June 29, 1987. 

I. Col: Communications was publicly owned until 1985, when it was merged 
into another Cox family company, Cox Eotifpris^s. The data presented 
here arc for year-end 1984, the last year of public ownership and disclosure 
of substantial financial information. 

J, Data compiled in William Barrett, "Citizens Rich," Fvrbtt, Dec. 14, 1987. 

4. These data are in Australian dollan and are for June 30, 1986; at that date 

the Australian dollar was worth 68/100 of a u.S. dollar. 

J. Data for 1985, as presented in the Nev! York Timtt, Feb. 9, 1986. 

5, Total revenue for media sales only, as reported Lq Advniising AgSy June 29, 

7- Storer came under the control of the Wall Street &rm Kohlberg Kravis 
Rob«ns & Co. in 1985; the data here are for Decembei i984j tiit last p^iiod 
of Storer autonomy and publicly available information. 

I, Total revenue for media sales only; from Advtnising Age, June 29, 1987. 

9. Total assets as of 1984-S5j based on "Mort Zuckerman, Media's New 
Mogul," fiw/K/tft Oct. 14, 1985; total revenue from /^rftwiirin.y 4pi June 
29, 1987. 

have intensified in recent years as media stocks have become market 
favorites, and actual or prospective owners of newspapers and televi- 
sion properties have found it possible to capitalize increased audience 
s.ize snd sjdvertismg, reveaucfi into multiplied values of the media fran- 
chises-and great wealth.^* This has encouraged the entry of specula- 
tors and increased the pressure and temptation to focus more 
intensively on profitability. Family owners have been increasingly di- 
vided between those wanting to take advantage of the new opportuni- 
ties and those desiring a continuation of family control, and their splits 


have often precipitated crises leading finally to the sale of the family 
interest, i? 

This trend toward greater integration of the media into the market 
system has been accelerated by the loosening of rules limiting media 
c'D.p.c^vi^YiU'CVi;, cTQ?,^-^ffTAT'i!n\pj 'ktiv tvTiWtili by TjOTj-TTifctii^i Compa- 
nies. There has also been an abandonment ofrestrictions-previously 
quite feeble anyway--on radio-TV commercials, entertainment- 
mayhem programming, and "fairness doctrine" threats, opening the 
door to the unrestrained commercial use of the airwaves. ^1 

The greater profitability of the media in a deregulated environment 
has also led to an increase in takeovers and takeover threats, with even 
giants like CBS and Time, Inc., directly attacked or threatened. This 
has forced the managements of the media giants to incur greater debt 
and to focus ever more aggressively and unequivocally on profitability, 
in order to placate owners and reduce the attractiveness of their proper- 
ties to outsiders,22 They have lost some of their limited autonomy to 
bankers, institutional investors, and large individual investors whom 
they have had to solicit as potential "white knights. "23 

While the stock of the great majority of large media firms is traded 
on the securities markets, approximately two-thirds of these companies 
are either closely held or still controlled by members of the originating 
family who retain large blocks of stock. This situation is changing as 
family ownership becomes diffused among larger numbers of heirs and 
the market opportunities for selhng media properties continue to im- 
prove, but the persistence offamily control is evident in the data shown 
in table 1-2. Also evident in the table is the enormous wealth possessed 
by the controlling families of the top media firms. For seven of the 
twenty-four, the market value of the media properties owned by the 
controlling families in the mid-1980s exceeded a billion dollars, and 
the median value was close to half a billion dollars.24 These control 
groups obviously have a special stake in the status quo by virtue oftheir 
wealth and their strategic position in one of the great institutions of 
society. And they exercise the power of this strategic position) if only 
by establishing the general aims of the company and choosing its top 
management. 2S 

The control groups of the media giants are also brought into close 
relationships with the mainstream of the corporate community through 
boards of directors and social links. In the cases of NBC and the Group 
W television and cable systems, their respective parents, GE and West- 
inghouse, are themselves mainstream corporate giants, with boards of 
directors that are dominated by corporate and banking executives. 
Many of the other large media firms have boards made up predomi- 


TABLE 1-2 

Wealth of the Control Groups of 
Twenty-four Large Media 
Corporations (or Their Parent 
Companies), February 1986 







GROUP (ft) 


Newhouse family 

Closcdy hc:ld 


Capital Cities 

Officers and 

20.7 (Warren 

directors (ODs) 

Buffett, 17.8) 




Cox Com- 

Cox family 



Dow Jones & Co. 







Genera] Electric 


Under l 


Hear«t family 



Knight and Ridder 




McGraw family 


News Corp. 

Murdoch family 


New York Times 

Sulzberger family 


Reader's Digest 

Wallace estate 


managed by 

trustees; no 




Scripps heir* 









Time, Inc. 


10.7 (Luce 4.6, 

Temple 3.2) 





Ajifi^nbe rgs 

Closely held 

Tribune Co. 

McCormick heirs 








711 ^ 

551 P 



















U.S. News & World 


Closely held 


Washington Post 

Graham family 


Under I 

Sources: P means taken from proxy statements and computed from ttOCk 
values as of February 1986; F means taken from Forbes magazine's annual 
esiimate of wealth holdings of the very rich. 

1. Thc« holdings include Willisim Paley's 8.1 percent and a 12.2 percent 
holding of Laurence Tisch through an investment by Loews. Later in the 
year, Loews increased its investment to 24.9 percent, and Laurence Tisch 
soon thereafter became acting chief executive officer. 

2, This is the price paid by Zuckerman when he bought U.S. Neva in 1984. 
See Gwen Kinkead, "Mort Zuckerman, Media's New Mogul," Formne, 
Oct. 14, 1985, p. 196. 

nantly of insiders, a general characteristic of relatively small and 
owner-dominated companies. The larger the firm and the more widely 
distributed the stock, the larger the number and proportion of outside 
directors. The composition of the outside directors of the media giants 
is very similar to that of large non-media corporations. Table 1-3 shows 
that active corporate executives and bankers together account for a 
little over half the total of the outside directors often media giants; and 
the lawyers and corporate-banker retirees (who account for nine of the 
thirteen under "Retired") push the corporate total to about two-thirds 
of the outside-director aggregate. These 95 outside directors had direc- 
torships in an additional 36 banks and 255 other companies (aside from 
the media company and their own firm of primary affiliation).26 

In addition to these board linkages, the large media companies all do 
business with commercial and investment bankers, obtaining lines of 
credit and loans, and receiving advice and service in selling stock and 
bond issues and in dealing with acquisition opportunities and takeover 
threats. Banks and other institutional investors are also large owners of 
media stock. In the early 1980s, such institutions held 44 percent of the 
stock of publicly owned newspapers and 35 percent of the stock of 


TABLE 1-3 

PARENTS) IN 1986* 




Corporate executive 






Retired (former corporate e:tccutive or banker) 


13.7 (9.5) 







Nonprofit organization 










Other directorships (bank directorships) 

255 (36) 

Former government officials 


Member of Council on Foreign Relations 


* Dow Jones & Co.; Washington Post; New York Times; Time, Inc.; CBS; 
Times-Mirror; Capital Cities; General Electric; Gannett; and Knight'Rkl- 

publicly owned broadcasting companies.'^ These investors are also 
frequently among the largest stockholders of individual companies. For 
example, in 1980-81, the Capital Group, an investment company sys- 
tem, held 7.1 percent of the stock of ABC, 6.6 percent of Knight- 
Ridder, 6 percent of Time, Inc., and 2.8 percent of Westinghouse. 
These holdings, individually and collectively, do not convey control, 
but these large investors can make themselves heard, and their actions 
can affect the welfare of the companies and their managers. If the 
managers fail to pursue actions that favor shareholder returns, institu- 
tional investors will be inclined to sell the stock (depressing its price), 
or to listen sympathetically to outsiders contemplating takeovers. These 


investors are a force helping press media companies toward strictly 
market (profitability) objectives. 

So is the diversification and geographic spread of the great media 
companies. Many of them have diversified out of particular media fields 
into others that seemed like growth areas. Many older newspaper-based 
media companies, fearful of the power of television and its effects on 
advertising revenue, moved as rapidly as they could into broadcasting 
and cable TV. Time, Inc., also, made a major diversification move into 
cable TV, which now accounts for more than half its profits. Only a 
small minority of the twenty-four largest media giants remain in a single 
media sector. 30 

The large media companies have also diversified beyond the media 
field, and non-media companies have established a strong presence in 
the mass media. The most important cases of the latter are GE, owning 
RCA, which owns the NBC network, and Westinghouse, which owns 
major television-broadcasting stations, a cable network, and a radio- 
station network. GE and Westinghouse are both huge, diversified mul- 
tinational companies heavily involved in the controversial areas of 
weapons production and nuclear power. It may be recalled that from 
1965 to 1967, an attempt by International Telephone and Telegraph 
(IIT) to acquire ABC was frustrated following a huge outcry that 
focused on the dangers of allowing a great multinational corporation 
with extensive foreign investments and business activities to control a 
major media outlet." The fear was that ITT control "could compro- 
mise the independence of ABC's news coverage of political events in 
countries where IIT has interests. "^^ The soundness of the decision 
disallowing the acquisition seemed to have been vindicated by the later 
revelations of ITT's political bribery and involvement in attempts to 
overthrow the government of Chile. RCA and Westinghouse, however, 
had been permitted to control media companies long before the ITT 
case, although some of the objections applicable to ITT would seem to 
apply to them as well. GE is a more powerful company than ITT, with 
an extensive international reach, deeply involved in the nuclear power 
business, and far more important than IIT in the arms industry. It is 
a highly centralized and quite secretive organization, but one with a 
vast stake in "political" decisions. 33 GE has contributed to the funding 
of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that sup- 
ports intellectuals who will get the business message across. With the 
acquisition of ABC, GE should be in a far better position to assure that 
sound views are given proper attention,-^ The lack of outcry over its 
takeover of RCA and NBC resulted in part from the fact that RCA 
control over NBC had already breached the gate of separateness, but 


it also reflected the more pro-business and laissez-faire environment of 
the Reagan era. 

The non-media interests of most of the media giants are not large, 
and, excluding the GE and Westinghouse systems, they account for 
only a small fraction of their total revenue. Their multinational out- 
reach, however, is more significant. The television networks, television 
syndicators, major news magazines, and motion-picture studios aU do 
extensive business abroad, and they derive a substantial fraction of their 
revenues from foreign sales and the operation of foreign affiliates. 
Reader's Digest is printed in seventeen languages and is available in over 
160 countries. The Murdoch empire was originally based in Australia, 
and the controlling parent company is still an Australian corporation; 
its expansion in the United States is funded by profits from Australian 
and British affihates.^s 

Another structural relationship of importance is the media compa- 
nies' dependence on and ties with government. The radio-TV compa- 
nies and networks all require government licenses and franchises and 
are thus potentially subject to government control or harassment. This 
technical legal dependency has been used as a club to discipline the 
media, and media policies that stray too often from an establishment 
orientation could activate this threat. ^6 The media protect themselves 
from this contingency by lobbying and other political expenditures, the 
cultivation of political relationships, and care in policy. The political 
ties of the media have been impressive. Table 1-3 shows that fifteen of 
ninety-five outside directors of ten of the media giants are former 
government officials, and Peter Dreier gives a similar proportion i n his 
study of large newspapers." In television, the revolving-door flow of 
personnel between regulators and the regulated firms was massive dur- 
ing the years when the oligopolistic structure of the media and networks 
was being established, 

The great media also depend on the government for more general 
policy support. All business firms are interested in business taxes, inter- 
est rates, labor policies, and enforcement and nonenforcement of the 
antitrust laws. GE and Westinghouse depend on the government to 
subsidize their nuclear power and military research and development, 
and to create a favorable climate for their overseas sales. The Reader's 
Digesti Timet Newsweek, and movie- and television-syndication sellers 
also depend on diplomatic support for their rights to penetrate foreign 
cultures with U.S. commercial and value messages and interpretations 
of current affairs. The media giants, advertising agencies, and great 
multinational corporations have a joint and close interest in a favorable 
climate of investment in the Third World, and their interconnections 



and relationships with the government in these pohcies are symbiotic. 

In sum, the dominant media iirms are quite large businesses; they are 
controlled by very wealthy people or by managers who are subject to 
sharp constraints by owners and other market-profit-oriented forces;40 
and they are closely interlocked, and have important common interests, 
with other major corporations, banks, and government. This is the first 
powerful filter that wUl affect news choices. 


In arguing for the benefits of the free market as a means of controlling 
dissident opinion in the mid-nineteenth century, the Liberal chancellor 
of the British exchequer, Sir George Lewis, noted that the market 
would promote those papers "enjoying the preference of the advertising 
public. "41 Advertising did, in fact, serve as a powerful mechanism 
weakening the working-class press. Curran and Seaton give the growth 
of advertising a status comparable with the increase in capital costs as 
a factor allowing the market to accomplish what state taxes and harass- 
ment failed to do, noting that these "advertisers thus acquired a de facto 
licensing authority since, without their support, newspapers ceased to 
be economically viable."42 

Before advertising became prominent, the price of a newspaper had 
to cover the costs of doing business. With the growth of advertising, 
papers that attracted ads could afford a copy price well below produc- 
tion costs. This put papers lacking in advertising at a serious disadvan- 
tage: their prices would tend to be higher, curtailing sales, and they 
would have less surplus to invest in improving the salability of the paper 
(features, attractive format, promotion, etc.). For this reason, an adver- 
tising-based system wiU tend to drive out of existence or into marginal- 
ity the media companies and types that depend on revenue from sales 
alone. With advertising, the free market does not yield a neutral system 
in which final buyer choice decides. The advertisers* choices influence 
media prosperity and survival. 43 The ad-based media receive an adver- 
tising subsidy that gives them a price-marketing-quality edge, which 
allows them to encroach on and further weaken their ad-free (or ad- 
disadvantaged) rivals." Even if ad-based media cater to an affluent 
("upscale") audience, they easily pick up a large part of the "down- 


scale" audience, and their rivals lose market share and are eventually 
driven out or marginalized. 

In fact, advertising has played a potent role in increasing concentra- 
tion even among rivals that focus with equal energy on seeking advertis- 
ing revenue. A market share and advertising edge on the part of one 
paper or television station will give it additional revenue to compete 
more effectively-promote more aggressively, buy more salable fea- 
tures and programs-and the disadvantaged rival must add expenses it 
cannot afford to try to stem the cumulative process of dwindling market 
(and revenue) share. The crunch is often fatal, and it helps explain the 
death of many large-circulation papers and magazines and the attrition 
in the number of newspapers. 

From the time of the introduction of press advertising, therefore, 
working-class and radical papers have been at a serious disadvantage. 
Their readers have tended to be of modest means, a factor that has 
always affected advertiser interest. One advertising executive stated in 
1856 that some journals are poor vehicles because "their readers are not 
purchasers, and any money thrown upon them is so much thrown 
away. "46 The same force took a heavy toll of the post- World War II 
social-democratic press in Great Britain, with the Daily Herald, News 
Chronicle, and Sunday Citizen failing or abSorbed into establishment 
systems between 1960 and 1967, despite a collective average daily read- 
ership of 9.3 million. As James Curran points out, with 4.7 million 
readers in its last year, "the Daily Herald actually had almost double 
the readership of The Times, the Financial Times and the Guardian 
combined." What is more, surveys showed that its readers "thought 
mare highly of their paper than the regular readers of any other popular 
newspaper," and "they also read more in their paper than the readers 
of other popular papers despite being overwhelmingly working 

class "47 The death of the Herald, as well as of the News Chronicle 

and Sunday Citizc-ru was in large measure a result of progressive stran- 
gulation by lack of advertising support. The Herald, with 8.1 percent 
of national daily circulation, got 3.5 percent of net advertising revenue; 
the Sunday Citizen got one-tenth of the net advertising revenue of the 
Sunday Times and one-seventh that of the Observer (on a per-thou- 
sand-copies basis). Curran argues persuasively that the loss of these 
three papers was an important contribution to the declining fortunes 
of the Labor party, in the case of the Herald specificaUy removing a 
mass-circulation institution that provided "an alternative framework of 
analysis and understanding that contested the dominant systems of 
representation in both broadcasting and the mainstream press. "48 A 
mass movement without any major media support, and subject to a 


great deal of active press hostility, suffers a serious disability, and 
struggles against grave odds. 

The successful media today are fully attuned to the crucial impor- 
tance of audience "quality": CBS proudly tells its shareholders that 
while it "continuously seeks to maximize audience delivery," it has 
developed a new "sales tool" with which it approaches advertisers: 
"Client Audience Profile, or CAP, will help advertisers optimize the 
effectiveness of their network television schedules by evaluating audi- 
ence segments in proportion to usage levels of advertisers' products and 
services."49 In short, the mass media are interested in attracting audi- 
ences with buying power, not audiences per se; it is affluent audiences 
that spark advertiser interest today, as in the nineteenth century. The 
idea that the drive for large audiences makes the mass media "demo- 
cratic" thus suffers from the initial weakness that its political analogue 
is a voting system weighted by income! 

The power of advertisers over television programming stems from 
the simple fact that they buy and pay for the programs-they are the 
"patrons" who provide the media subsidy. As such, the media compete 
for their patronage, developing specialized staff to solicit advertisers 
and necessarily having to explain how their programs serve advertisers' 
needs. The choices of these patrons greatly affect the welfare of the 
media, and the patrons become what William Evan calls "normative 
reference organizations, "5o whose requirements and demands the 
media must accommodate if they are to succeed. 

For a television network, an audience gain or loss of one percentage 
point in the Nielsen ratings translates into a change in advertising 
revenue of from $80 to $100 million a year, with some variation depend- 
ing on measures of audience "quality." The stakes in audience size and 
affluence are thus extremely large, and m a market system there is a 
strong tendency for such considerations to affect policy profoundly. 
This is partly a matter of institutional pressures to focus on the bottom 
line, partly a maner of the continuous interaction of the media or- 
ganization with patrons who supply the revenue dollars. As Grant 
Tinker, then head of NBC-TV, observed, television "is an advertising- 
supported medium, and to the extent that support falls out, program- 
ming will change. "52 

Working-class and radical media also suffer from the political dis- 
crimination of advertisers. Political discrimination is structured into 
advertising allocations by the stress on people with money to buy. But 
many firms will always refuse to patronize ideological enemies and 
those whom they perceive as damaging their interests, and cases of 


overt discrimination add to the force of the voting system weighted by 
income. Public-television station WNET lost its corporate funding 
from Gulf + Western in 1985 after the station showed the documentary 
"Hungry for Profit," which contains material critical of multinational 
corporate activities in the Third World. Even before the program was 
shown, in anticipation of negative corporate reaction, station officials 
"did all we could to get the program sanitized" (according to one station 
source).53 The chief executive of Gulf + Western complained to the 
station that the program was "virulently anti-business if not anti- 
American," and that the station's carrying the program was not the 
behavior "of a friend" of the corporation. The London £conomi,s/ says 
that "Most people believe that WNET would not make the same mis- 
take again. "54 

In addition to discrimination against unfriendly media institutions, 
advertisers also choose selectively among programs on the basis of their 
own principles. With rare exceptions these are culturally and politically 
conservative. 5^ Large corporate advertisers on television will rarely 
sponsor programs that engage in serious criticisms of corporate activi- 
ties, such as the problem of environmental degradation, the workings 
of the military-industrial complex, or corporate support of and benefits 
from Third World tyrannies. Erik Bamouw recounts the history of a 
proposed documentary series on environmental problems by NBC at a 
time of great interest in these issues. Barnouw notes that although at 
that time a great many large companies were spending money on com- 
mercials and other publicity regarding environmental problems, the 
documentary series failed for want of sponsors. The problem was one 
of excessive objectivity in the series, which included suggestions of 
corporate or systemic failure, whereas the corporate message "was one 
of reassurance. "56 

Television networks learn over time that such programs will not sell 
and would have to be carried at a financial sacrifice, and that, in 
addition, they may offend powerful advertisers.^^ With the rise in the 
price of advertising spots, the forgone revenue increases; and with 
increasing market pressure for financial performance and the diminish- 
ing constraints from regulation, an advertising-based media system will 
gradually increase advertising time and marginalize or eliminate alto- 
gether programming that has significant public-affairs content, ss 

Advertisers will want, more generally, to avoid programs with serious 
complexities and disturbing controversies that interfere with the "buy- 
ing mood." They seek programs that will lightly entertain and thus fit 
in with the spirit of the primary purpose of program purchases-the 



dissemination of a selling message. Thus over time, instead of programs 
like "The Selling of the Pentagon," it is a natural evolution of a market 
seeking sponsor dollars to offer programs such as "A Bird's-Eye View 
of Scotland," "Barry Goldwater's Arizona," "An Essay on Hotels," and 
"Mr. Rooney Goes to Dinner"-a CBS program on "how Americans 
eat when they dine out, where they go and why."" There are excep- 
tional cases of companies willing to sponsor serious programs, some- 
times a result of recent embarrassments that call for a public-relations 
offset. 6o But even in these cases the companies wUl usually not want to 
sponsor close examination of sensitive and divisive issues-they prefer 
programs on Greek antiquities, the ballet, and items of cultural and 
national history and nostalgia. Bamouw points out an interesting con- 
trast: commercial-television drama "deals almost wholly with the here 
a.nd now, a.s processed via advertising budgets," but on public televi- 
sion, culture "has come to mean 'other cultures.' . . . American civiliza- 
tion, here and now, is excluded from consideration. "61 

Television stations and networks are also concerned to maintain 
audience "flow" levels, i.e., to keep people watching from program to 
program, in order to sustain advertising ratings and revenue. Airing 
program interludes of documentary- cultural matter that cause station 
switching is costly, and over time a "free" (i.e., ad-based) commercial 
system will tend to excise it. Such documentary-cultural-critical 
materials will be driven out of secondary media vehicles as well, as these 
companies strive to qualify for advertiser interest, although there wUl 
always be some cultural-political programming trying to come into 
being or surviving on the periphery of the mainstream media. 


The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful 
sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of inter- 
est. The media need a steady, reliable flow of the raw material of news. 
They have daily news demands and imperative news schedules that 
they must meet. They cannot afford to have reporters and cameras at 
all places where important stories may break. Economics dictates that 
they concentrate their resources where significant news often occurs, 
where important rumors and leaks abound, and where regular press 


conferences are held. The White House, the Pentagon, and the State 
Department, in Washington, D.C., are central nodes of such news 
activity. On a local basis, city hall and the police department are the 
subject of regular news "beats" for reporters. Business corporations and 
trade groups are also regular and credible purveyors of stories deemed 
newsworthy. These bureaucracies turn OUt a large volume of material 
that meets the demands of news organizations for reliable, scheduled 
flows. Mark Fishman calls this "the principle of bureaucratic affinity: 
only other bureaucracies can satisfy the input needs of a news bureauc- 

Government and corporate sources also have the great merit of being 
recognizable and credible by their status and prestige. This is important 
to the mass media. As Fishman notes, 

Newsworkers are predisposed to treat bureaucratic accounts as 
factual because news personnel participate in upholding a norma- 
tive order of authorized knowers in the society. Reporters operate 
with the attitude that officials ought to know what it is their job 

to know In particular, a newsworker will recognize an official's 

claim to knowledge not merely as a claim, but as a credible, 
competent piece of knowledge. This amounts to a moral division 
of labor: officials have and give the facts; reporters merely get 

Another reason for the heavy weight given to official sources is that the 
mass media claim to be "Objective" dispensers of the news. Partly to 
maintain the image of objectivity, but also to protect themselves from 
criticisms of bias and the threat of libel suits, they need material that 
can be portrayed as presumptively accurate.^ This is also partly a 
matter of cost: taking information from sources that may be presumed 
credible reduces investigative expense, whereas material from sources 
that are not prima facie credible, or that will elicit criticism and threats, 
requires careful checking and costly research. 

The magnitude ofthe public-information operations oflarge govern- 
ment and corporate bureaucracies that constitute the primary news 
sources is vast and ensures special access to the media. The Pentagon, 
for example, has a public-information service that involves many thou- 
sands ofemployees, spending hundreds ofmillions of dollars every year 
and dwarfing not only the public-information resources of any dissent- 
ing individual or group but the aggregate of such groups. In 1979 and 
1980, during a brief interlude of relative openness (since closed down). 


the U.S. Air Force revealed that its public-information outreach in- 
cluded the following: 

140 newspapers, 690,000 copies per week 

Airman magazine, monthly circulation 125,000 

34 radio and 17 TV stations, primarily overseas 

45,000 headquarters and unit news releases 

615,000 hometown news releases 

6,600 interviews with news media 

3,200 news conferences 

500 news media orientation flights 

50 meetings with editorial boards 

11,000 speeches*^ 

This excludes vast areas of the air force's public-information effort. 
Writing back in 1970, Senator J. W. Fulbright had found that the air 
force public-relations effort in 1968 involved 1,305 full-time employees, 
exclusive of additional thousands that "have public functions collateral 
to other duties. "66 The air force at that time offered a weekly film-clip 
service for TV and a taped features program for use three times a week, 
sent to 1,139 radio stations; it also produced 148 motion pictures, of 
which 24 were released for public consumption.''^ There is no reason 
to believe that the air force public-relations effort has diminished since 
the 1960S.68 

Note that this is iust the air force. There are three other branches with 
massive programs, and there is a separate, overall public-information 
program under an assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in the 
Pentagon. In 1971, an Armed Forces Journal survey revealed that the 
Pentagon was publishing a total of 371 magazines at an annual cost of 
some $57 million, an operation sixteen times larger than the nation's 
biggest publisher. In an update in 1982, the Air Force Journal Interna- 
tional indicated that the Pentagon was publishing 1,203 periodicals. 
To put this into perspectivCj we may note the scope of public-informa- 
tion operations of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) 
and the National Council of the Churches of Christ (NCC), two of the 
largest of the nonprofit organizations that offer a consistently challeng- 
ing voice to the views of the Pentagon. The AFSC's main office infor- 
mation-services budget in 1984-85 was under $500,000, with eleven 
staffpeople.''° Its institution-wide press releases run at about two hun- 
dred per year, its press conferences thirty a year, and it produces about 
one film and two or rhree slide shows a year. It does not offer film cUps, 


photos, or taped radio programs to the media. The NCC Office of 
Information has an annual budget of some $350,000, issues about a 
hundred news releases per year, and holds four press conferences annu- 
ally.71 The ratio of air force news releases and press conferences to 
those of the AFSC and NCC taken together are 150 to I (or 2,200 to 
I if we count hometown news releases of the air force), and 94 to I 
respectively. Aggregating the other services would increase the differ- 
ential by a large factor. 

Only the corporate sector has the resources to produce public infor- 
mation and propaganda on the scale of the Pentagon and other govern- 
ment bodies. The AFSC and NCC cannot duplicate the Mobil Oil 
company's multimillion-dollar purchase of newspaper space and other 
corporate investments to get its viewpoint across.''^ The number of 
individual corporations with budgets for public information and lobby- 
ing in excess of those of the AFSC and NCC runs into the hundreds, 
perhaps even the thousands. A corporate collective like the U.S. Cham- 
ber of Commerce had a 1983 budget for research, communications, and 
political activities of $65 million. By 1980, the chamber was publishing 
a business magazine (Nation's Business) with a circulation of 1.3 milhon 
and a weekly newspaper with 740,000 subscribers, and it was producing 
a weekly panel show distributed to 400 radio stations, as well as its own 
weekly panel-discussion programs carried by 128 commercial television 

Besides the U.S. Chamber, there are thousands of state and local 
chambers of commerce and trade associations also engaged in public- 
relations and lobbying activities. The corporate and trade-association 
lobbying network community is "a network ofwell over 150,000 profes- 
sionals,"'* and its resources are related to corporate income, profits, 
and the protective value of public-relations and lobbying outlays. Cor- 
porate profits before taxes in 1985 were $295.5 billion. When the corpo- 
rate community gets agitated about the political environment, as it did in 
the 1970s, it obviously has the wherewithal to meet the perceived threat. 
Corporate and trade-association image and issues advertising increased 
from $305 milhon in 1975 to 5650 million in 1980.'* So did direct-mail 
campaigns through dividend and other mail stuffers, the distribution of 
educational films, booklets and pamphlets, and outlays on initiatives 
and referendums, lobbying, and political and think-tank contributions. 
Aggregate corporate and trade-association political advertising and 
grass-roots outlays were estimated to have reached the billion-dollar-a- 
year level by 1978, and to have grown to $1.6 billion by 1984.77 

To consolidate their preeminent position as sources, government and 


business-news promoters go to great pains to make things easy for news 
organizations. They provide the media organizations with facilities in 
which to gather; they give journalists advance copies of speeches and 
forthcoming reports; they schedule press conferences at hours well- 
geared to news deadlines; 78 they write press releases in usable language; 
and they carefully organize their press conferences and "photo oppor- 
tunity" sessions. ''5 It is the job of news officers "to meet the journalist's 
scheduled needs with material that their beat agency has generated at 
its own pace. "80 

In effect, the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass 
media, and gain special access by their contribution to reducing the 
media's costs of acquiring the raw materials of, and producing, news. 
The large entities that provide this subsidy become "routine" news 
sources and have privileged access to the gates. Non-routine sources 
must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision 
of the gatekeepers. It should also be noted that in the case of the 
largesse of the Pentagon and the State Department's Office of Public 
Diplomacy,Sl the subsidy is at the taxpayers' expense, so that, in effect, 
the citizenry pays to be propagandized in the interest of power- 
ful groups such as military contractors and other sponsors of state 

Because of their services, continuous contact on the beat, and mutual 
dependency, the powerful can use personal relationships, threats, and 
rewards to further influence and coerce the media. The media may feel 
obligated to carry extremely dubious stories and mute criticism in order 
not to offend their sources and disturb a close relationship.82 It is very 
difficult to call authorities on whom one depends for daily news Mars, 
even if they tell whoppers. Critical sources may be avoided not only 
because aftheir lesser availability and higher cost of establishing credi- 
bility, but also because the primary sources may be offended and may 
even threaten the media using them. 

Powerful sources may also use their prestige and importance to the 
media as a lever to deny critics access to the media: the Defense 
Department, for example, refused to participate in National Public 
Radio discussions of defense issues if experts from the Center for 
Defense Information were on the program; Elliott Abrams refused 
to appear on a program on human rights in Central America at 
the Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard University, unless 
the former ambassador, Robert White, was excluded as a partici- 
pant;S3 Claire Sterling refused to participate in television-network 
shows on the Bulgarian Connection where her critics would appear.84 
In the last two of these cases, the authorities and brand-name ex- 


pens- were successful in monopolizing access by coercive threats. 

Perhaps more important, powerful sources regularly take advantage 
of media routines and dependency to "manage" the media, to manipu- 
late them into following a special agenda and framework (as we will 
show in detail in the chapters that follow).85 Part of this management 
process consists of inundating the media with stories, which serve 
sometimes to foist a particular line and frame on the media (e.g., 
Nicaragua as illicitly supplying arms to the Salvadoran rebels), and at 
other times to help chase unwanted stories off the front page or out of 
the media altogether (the alleged delivery of MlGs to Nicaragua during 
the week of the 1984 Nicaraguan election). This strategy can be traced 
back at least as far as the Comminee on Public Information, established 
to coordinate propaganda during World War 1, which "discovered in 
1917-18 that one of the best means of controlling news was flooding 
news channels with 'facts,' or what amounted to official information. "86 

The relation between power and sourcing extends beyond official 
and corporate provision of day-to-day news to shaping the supply of 
"experts." The dominance of official sources is weakened by the exis- 
tence of highly respectable unofficial sources that give dissident views 
with great authority. This problem is alleviated by "co-opting the ex- 
perts"87_i.e., puning them on the payroll as consultants, funding their 
research, and organizing think tanks that wiU hire them directly and 
help disseminate their messages. In this way bias may be structured, and 
the supply of experts may be skewed in the direction desired by the 
government and "the market."88 As Henry Kissinger has pointed out, 
in this "age of the expert," the "constituency" of the expert is "those 
who have a vested interest in commonly held opinions; elaborating and 
defining its consensus at a high level has, after all, made him an ex- 
pert."89 It is therefore appropriate that this restructuring has taken 
place to allow the commonly held opinions (meaning those that are 
functional for elite interests) to continue to prevail. 

This process of creating the needed body of experts has been carried 
out on a deliberate basis and a massive scale. Back in 1972, Judge Lewis 
Powell (later elevated to the Supreme Court) wrote a memo to the U.S. 
Chamber of Commerce urging business "to buy the top academic repu- 
tations in the country to add credibility to corporate studies and give 
business a stronger voice on the campuses. "90 One buys them, and 
assures that- in the words of Dr. Edwin Feulner, of the Heritage 
Foundation-the public-policy area "is awash with in-depth academic 
studies" that have the proper conclusions. Using the analogy of Procter 
& Gamble selling toothpaste, Feulner explained that "They sell it and 
resell it every day by keeping the product fresh in the consumer's 


mind." By the sales effortj including the dissemination of the correct 
ideas to "thousands of newspapers," it is possible to keep debate 
"within its proper perspective. "91 

In accordance with this formula, during the 1970S and early 1980s a 
string of institutions was created and old ones were activated to the end 
of propagandizing the corporate viewpoint. Many hundreds of intellec- 
tuals were brought to these institutions, where their work was funded 
and their outputs were disseminated to the media by a sophisticated 
propaganda etfort. The corporate funding and clear ideological pur- 
pose in the overall effort had no discernible effect on the credibility of 
the intellectuals so mobilized; on the contrary, the funding and pushing 
of their ideas catapaulted them into the press. 

As an illustration of how the funded experts preempt space in the 
media, table 1-4 describes the "experts" on terrorism and defense issues 
who appeared on the "McNeil-Lehrer News Hour" in the course of a 
year in the mid-1980s. We can see that, excluding journalists, a majority 
of the participants (54 percent) were present or former government 
officials, and that the next highest category (15.7 percent) was drawn 
from conservative think tanks. The largest number of appearances in 
the latter category was supplied by the Georgetown Center for Strate- 
gic and International Studies (CSIS), an organization funded by con- 
servative foundations and corporations, and providing a revolving door 
between the State Department and CIA and a nominally private organi- 
zation.93 Qn such issues as terrorism and the Bulgarian Connection, the 
CSIS has occupied space in the media that otherwise might have been 
filled by independent voices. 94 

The mass media themselves also provide "experts" who regularly 
echo the official view. John Barron and Claire Sterling are household 
names as authorities on the KGB and terrorism because the Reader's 
Digest has funded, published, and publicized their work; the Soviet 
defector Arkady Shevchenko became an expert on Soviet arms and 
intelligence because TifnCj ABC-TV, and the New York Times chose to 
feature him (despite his badly tarnished credentials).95 By giving these 
purveyors of the preferred view a great deal of exposure, the media 
confer status and make them the obvious candidates for opinion and 

Another class of experts whose prominence is largely a function of 
serviceabihty to power is former radicals who have come to "see the 
light." The motives that cause these individuals to switch gods, from 
Stalin (or Mao) to Reagan and free enterprise, is varied, but for the 
establishment media the reason for the change is simply that the ex- 


TABLE 1-4 

Experts on Terrorism and 
Defense on the 
"McNeil-Lehrer News Hour," 
January 14, 1985, 
to January 27, 1986* 



Government official 





Former government official 





Conservative think tank 


















Foreign government official 















* This is a compilation of all appearances on the news hour concerning the 
Bulgarian Connection (3), the shooting down of the Korean airliner KAL 
007 (5), and terrorism, defense, and arms control (33), from January J 4, 
1985, through January 27,1986. 

radicals have finally seen the error of their ways. In a country whose 
citizenry values acknowledgement of sin and repentance, the turncoats 
are an important class of repentant sinners. It is interesting to observe 
how the former sinners, whose previous work was of little interest or 
an object of ridicule to the mass media, are suddenly elevated to promi- 
nence and become authentic experts. We may recall how, during the 
McCarthy era, defectors and ex-Communists vied with one another in 
tales of the imminence of a Soviet invasion and other lurid stories.''* 
They found that news coverage was a function of their trimming their 
accounts to the prevailing demand. The steady flow of ex-radicals from 
marginality to media attention shows that we are witnessing a durable 
method of providing experts who wUl say what the establishment wants 



"Flak" refers to negative responses to a media statement or program. 
It may take the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, law- 
suits, speeches and bills before Congress, and other modes of com- 
plaint, threat, and punitive action. It may be organized centrally or 
locally, or it may consist of the entirely independent actions of in- 

If flak is produced on a large scale, or by individuals or groups with 
substantial resources, it can be both uncomfortable and costly to the 
media. Positions have to be defended within the organization and with- 
out, sometimes before legislatures and possibly even in courts. Adver- 
tisers may withdraw patronage. Television advertising is mainly of 
consumer goods that are readily subject to organized boycott. During 
the McCarthy years, many advertisers and radio and television stations 
were effectively coerced into quiescence and blacklisting of employees 
by the threats of determined Red hunters to boycoil products. Adver- 
tisers are still concerned to avoid offending constituencies that might 
produce flak, and their demand for suitable programming is a continu- 
ing feature of the media environment. If certain kinds of fact, posi- 
tion, or program are thought Mkely to elicit flak, this prospect can be 
a deterrent. 

The ability to produce flak, and especially flak that is costly and 
threatening, is related to power. Serious fiat has increased in close 
parallel with business's growing resentment of media criticism and the 
corporate offensive of the 1970S and 1980s. Flak from the powerful can 
be either direct or indirect. The direct would include letters or phone 
calls from the White House to Dan Rather or William Paley, or from 
the FCC to the television networks asking for documents used in put- 
ting together a program, or from irate offlcials of ad agencies or corpo- 
rate sponsors to media officials asking for reply time or threatening 
retaliation.'* The powerful can also work on the media indirectly by 
complaining to their own constituencies (stockholders, employees) 
about the media, by generating institutional advertising that does the 
same, and by funding right-wing monitoring or think-tank operations 
designed to attack the media. They may also fund political campaigns 
and help put into power conservative politicians who will more directly 
serve the interests of private power in curbing any deviationism in the 


Along with its other political investments of the 1970S and 1980s, the 
corporate community sponsored the growth of institutions such as the 
American Legal Foundation, the Capital Legal Foundation, the Media 
Institute, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, and Accuracy in 
Media (AIM). These may be regarded as institutions organized for the 
Specific purpose of producing flak. Another and older fiak-producing 
machine with a broader design is Freedom House. The American Legal 
Foundation, organized in 1980, has specialized in Fairness Doctrine 
complaints and libel suits to aid "media victims." The Capital Legal 
Foundation, incorporated in 1977, was the Scaife vehicle for Westmore- 
land's S12o-million Mbel suit against CBS.100 

The Media Institute, organized in 1972 and funded by corporate- 
wealthy patrons, sponsors monitoring projects, conferences, and stud- 
ies of the media. It has focused less heavily on media failings in foreign 
policy, concentrating more on media portrayals of economic issues and 
the business community, but its range of interests is broad. The main 
theme of its sponsored studies and conferences has been the failure of 
the media to portray business accurately and to give adequate weight 
to the business point of view,101 but it underwrites works such as John 
Corry's expose of the alleged left-wing bias of the mass media. The 
chairman of the board of trustees of the institute in 1985 was Steven V. 
Seekins, the top public-relations officer of the American Medical Asso- 
ciation; chairman of the National Advisory Council was Herbert 
Schmertz, of the Mobil Oil Corporation. 

The Center for Media and Public Affairs, run by Linda and Robert 
Lichter, came into existence in the mid-1980s as a "non-profit, non- 
partisan" research institute, with warm accolades from Patrick Bu- 
chanan, Faith Whittlesey, and Ronald Reagan himself, who recognized 
the need for an objective and fair press. Their Media Mmitar and 
research studies continue their earlier efforts to demonstiatc the liberal 
bias and anti-business propensities of the mass media. 

AIM was formed in 1969, and it grew spectacularly in the 1970s. Its 
annual income rose from $5,000 in 1971 to $1.5 million in the early 1980s, 
with funding m.ainly from large corporations and the wealthy heirs and 
foundations of the corporate system. At least eight separate oil compa- 
nies were contributors to AIM in the early 1980s, but the wide represen- 
tation in sponsors from the corporate community is impressive. io4 The 
function of AIM is to harass the media and put pressure on them, to 
follow the corporate agenda and a hard-line, right-wing foreign policy. 
It presses the media to join more enthusiastically in Red-scare band- 
wagons, and attacks them for alleged deficiencies whenever they fail to 
toe the line on foreign policy. It conditions the media to expect trou- 


ble (and cost increases) for violating right-wing standards of bias.ios 
Freedom House, which dates back to the early 1940s, has had inter- 
locks with AIM, the World Anticommunist League, Resistance Inter- 
national, and U.S. government bodies such as Radio Free Europe and 
the CIA, and has long served as a virtual propaganda arm of the 
government and international right wing. It sent election monitors to 
the Rhodesian elections staged by Ian Smith in 1979 and found them 
"fair," whereas the 1980 elections won by Mugabe under British super- 
vision it found dubious. Its election monitors also found the Salvadoran 
elections of 1982 admirable. It has expended substantial resources in 
criticizing the media for insufficient sympathy with U.S. foreign-policy 
ventures and excessively harsh criticism of U.S. client states. Its most 
notable publication of this genre was Peter Braestfup's Big Story, which 
contended that the media's negative portrayal of the Tet offensive 
helped lose the war. The work is a travesty of scholarship, but more 
interesting is its premise: that the mass media not only should support 
any national venture abroad, but should do so with enthusiasm, such 
enterprises being by definition noble (see the extensive review of the 
Freedom House study in chapter 5 and appendix 3). In 1982, when the 
Reagan administration was having trouble containing media reporting 
of the systematic killing of civilians by the Salvadoran army. Freedom 
House came through with a denunciation of the "imbalance" in media 
reporting from El Salvador. '"^ 

Although the flak machines steadily attack the mass media, the media 
treat them well. They receive respectful attention, and their propagan- 
distic role and Mnks to a larger corporate program are rarely mentioned 
or analyzed. AIM head. Reed Irvine's diatribes are frequently pub- 
lished, and right-wing network flacks who regularly assail the "liberal 
media," such as Michael Ledeen,108 are given Op-Ed column space, 
sympathetic reviewers, and a regular place on talk shows as experts. 
This reflects the power of the sponsors, including the well-entrenched 
position of the right wing in the mass media themselves. 

The producers of flak add to one another's strength and reinforce the 
command of political authority in its news-management activities. The 
government is a major producer of flak, regularly assailing, threatening, 
and "correcting" the media, trying to contain any deviations from the 
established Une. News management itself is designed to produce flak. 
In the Reagan years, Mr. Reagan was put on television to exude charm 
to millions, many of whom berated the media when they dared to 
criticize the "Great Communicator. "Ho 



A final filter is the ideology of anticommunism. Communism as the 
ultimate evil has always been the specter haunting property owners, as 
it threatens the very root of their class position and superior status. The 
Soviet, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions were traumas to Western elites, 
and the ongoing conflicts and the well-publicized abuses of Communist 
states have contributed to elevating opposition to communism to a first 
principle of Western ideology and politics. This ideology helps mobilize 
the populace against an enemy, and because the concept is fuzzy it can 
be used against anybody advocating policies that threaten property 
interests or support accommodation with Communist states and radi- 
calism. It therefore helps fragment the left and labor movements and 
serves as a political-control mechanism. If the triumph of communism 
is the worst imaginable result, the support of fascism abroad is justified 
as a lesser evil. Opposition to social democrats who are too soft on 
Communists and "play into their hands" is rationalized in similar terms. 

Liberals at home, often accused of being pro-Communist or insuffi- 
ciently anti-Communist, are kept continuously on the defensive in a 
cultural milieu in which anticommunism is the dominant religion. If 
they allow communism, or something that can be labeled communism, 
to triumph in the provinces while they are in office, the political costs 
are heavy. Most of them have fully internalized the religion anyway, 
but they are all under great pressure to demonstrate their anti-Commu- 
nist credentials. This causes them to behave very much like reactionar- 
ies. Their occasional support of social democrats often breaks down 
where the latter are insufficiently harsh on their own indigenous radi- 
cals or on popular groups that are organizing among generally margin- 
alized sectors. In his brief tenure in the Dominican Republic, Juan 
Bosch attacked corruption in the armed forces and government, began 
a land-reform program, undertook a major project for mass education 
of the populace, and maintained a remarkably open government and 
system of effective civil liberties. These policies threatened powerful 
internal vested interests, and the United States resented his indepen- 
dence and the extension of civil liberties to Communists and radicals. 
This was carrying democracy and pluralism too far. Kennedy was 
"extremely disappointed" in Bosch's rule, and the State Department 
"quickly soured on the first democratically elected Dominican Presi- 
dent in over thirty years." Bosch's overthrow by the military after nine 
months in office had at least the tacit support of the United States. ^'^ 
Two years later, by contrast, the Johnson administration invaded the 


Dominican Republic to make sure that Bosch did not resume power. 

The Kennedy liberals were enthusiastic about the military coup and 
displacement of a populist government in Brazil in 1964.112 A major 
spurt in rhe growth of neo-Fascist national-security states took place 
under Kennedy and Johnson. In the cases of the U.S. subversion of 
Guatemala, 1947-54, and the military attacks on Nicaragua, 1981-87, 
allegations of Communist links and a Communist threat caused many 
liberals to support counterrevolutionary intervention, while others 
lapsed into silence, paralyzed by the fear of being tarred with charges 
of infidelity to the national religion. 

It should be noted that when anti-Communist fervor is aroused, the 
demand for serious evidence in support of claims of "communist" 
abuses is suspended, and charlatans can thrive as evidential sources. 
Defectors, informers, and assorted other opportunists move to center 
stage as "experts," and they remain there even after exposure as highly 
unreliable, if not downright liars. Pascal Delwit and Jean-Michel 
Dewaele point out that in France, too, the ideologues of anticommu- 
nism "can do and say anything. "114 Analyzing the new status of Annie 
Kriegel and Pierre Daix, two former passionate Stalinists now pos- 
sessed of a large and uncritical audience in France,"* Delwit and 
Dewaele note; 

If we analyse their writings, we find all the classic reactions of 
people who have been disappointed in love. But no one dreams of 
criticising them for their past, even though it has marked them 
forever. They may well have been converted, but they have not 

changed no one notices the constants, even though they are 

glaringly obvious. Their best sellers prove, thanks to the support 
of the most indulgent and slothful critics anyone could hope for, 
that the public can be fooled. Noone denounces or even notices 
the arrogance of both yesterday's eulogies and today's diatribes; 
no one cares that there is never any proof and that invective is 
used in place of analysis. Their inverted hyper-Stalinism- which 
takes the usual form of total manicheanism-is whitewashed sim- 
ply because it is directed against Communism. The hysteria has 
not changed, but it gets a better welcome in its present guise. 

The anti-Communist control mechanism reaches through the system 
to exercise a profound influence on the mass media. In normal times 
as well as in periods of Red scares, issues tend to be framed in terms 
of a dichotomized world of Communist and anti-Communist powers, 
with gains and losses allocated to contesting sides, and rooting for "our 


side" considered an entirely legitimate news practice. It is the mass 
media that identify, create, and push into the limelight a Joe McCarthy. 
Arkady Shevchenko, and Claire Sterling and Robert Leiken, or an 
Annie Kriegel and Pierre Daix. The ideology and religion of anticom- 
munism is a potent filter. 


The five filters narrow the range of news that passes through the gates, 
and even more sharply limit what can become "big news," subject to 
sustained news campaigns. By definition, news from primary establish- 
ment sources meets one major filter requirement and is readily accom- 
modated by the mass media. Messages from and about dissidents and 
weak, unorganized individuals and groups, domestic and foreign, are at 
an initial disadvantage in sourcing costs and credibility, and they often 
do not comport with the ideology or interests of the gatekeepers and 
other powerful parties that influence the filtering process."^ 

Thus, for example, the torture of political prisoners and the attack 
on trade unions in Tutkey will be pressed on the media only by human- 
rights activists and groups that have little political leverage. The U.S. 
government supported the Turkish martial-law government from its 
inception in 1980, and the U.S. business community has been warm 
toward regimes that profess fervent anticommunism, encourage foreign 
investment, repress unions, and loyally support U.S. foreign policy (a 
set of virtues that are frequently closely linked). Media that chose to 
feature Turkish violence against their own citizenry would have had to 
go to extra expense to find and check out information sources; they 
would elicit flak from government, business, and organized right-wing 
flak machines, and they might be looked upon with disfavor by the 
corporate community (including advertisers) for indulging in such a 
quixotic interest and crusade. They would tend to stand alone in focus- 
ing on victims that from the standpoint of dominant American interests 
were unworthy, ns 

In marked contrast, protest over political prisoners and the violation 
of the rights of trade unions in Poland was seen by the Reagan adminis- 
tration and business elites in 1981 as a noble cause, and, not coinciden- 
tally, as an opportunity to score political points. Many media leaders 
and syndicated columnists felt the_same way. Thus information and 


Strong opinions on human- rights violations i n Poland could be obtained 
from official sources in Washington, and reliance on Polish dissidents 
would not elicit flak from the U.S. government or the flak machines. 
These victims would be generally acknowledged by the managers of the 
filters to be worthy. The mass media never explain why Andrei Sa- 
kharov is worthy and Jose Luis Massera, in Uruguay, is unworthy-the 
attention and general dichotomization occur "naturally" as a result of 
the working of the filters, but the result is the same as if a commissar 
had instructed the media: "Concentrate on the victims ofenemy powers 
and forget about the victims of friends. "119 

Reports of the abuses of worthy victims not only pass through the 
filters; they may also become the basis of sustained propaganda cam- 
paigns. If the government or corporate community and the media feel 
that a story is useful as weU as dramatic, they focus on it intensively 
and use it to enlighten the public. This was true, for example, of the 
shooting down by the Soviets of the Korean airliner KAL 007 in early' 
September 1983, which permitted an extended campaign of denigration 
of an official enemy and greatly advanced Reagan administration arms 
plans. As Bernard Gwertzman noted complacently in the New York 
Times of August 31, 1984, U.S. officials "assert that worldwide criticism 
of the Soviet handling of the crisis has strengthened the United States 
i n its relations with Moscow," In sharp contrast, the shooting down by 
Israel of a Libyan civilian airliner in February 1973 led to no outcry in 
the West, no denunciations for «cold-blooded murder,"*^" and no boy- 
cotto This difference in treatment was explained by the New York Times 
precisely on the grounds of utility: "No useful purpose is served by an 
acrimonious debate over the assignment of blame for the downing of 
a Libyan airliner in the Sinai peninsula last week."'^* There was a very 
"useful purpose" served by focusing on the Soviet act, and a massive 
propaganda campaign ensued.I22 

Propaganda campaigns in general have been closely attuned to elite 
interests. The Red scare of 1919-10 served well to abort the union- 
organizing drive that followed World War I in the steel and other 
industries. The Truman-McCarthy Red scare helped inaugurate the 
Cold War and the permanent war economy, and it also served to 
weaken the progressive coalition of the New Deal years. The chronic 
focus on the plight of Soviet dissidents, on enemy kilhngs in Cambodia, 
and on the Bulgarian Connection helped weaken the Vietnam syn- 
drome, justify a huge arms buildup and a more aggressive foreign 
policy, and divert attention from the upward redistribution of income 
that was the heart of Reagan's domestic economic program.'^' The 
recent propaganda-disinformation attacks on Nicaragua have been 


needed to avert eyes from the savagery of the war in EI Salvador and 
to justify the escalating V.S. investment in counterrevolution in Central 

Conversely, propaganda campaigns will not be mobilized where vic- 
timization, even though massive, sustained, and dramatic, fails to meet 
the test of utility to elite interests. Thus, while the focus on Cambodia 
in the Pol Pot era (and thereafter) was exceedingly serviceable, as 
Cambodia had fallen to the Communists and useful lessons could be 
drawn by attention to their victims, the numerous victims of the U.S. 
bombing before the Communist takeover were scrupulously ignored by 
the V.S. elite press. After Pol Pot's ouster by the Vietnamese, the 
United States quietly shifted support to this "worse than Hitler" villain, 
with little notice in the press, which adjusted once again to the national 
political agenda. '^4 Attention to the Indonesian massacres of 1965-66, 
or the victims of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor from 1975 
onward^ would also be distinctly unhelpful as bases of media cam- 
paigns, because Indonesia is a U.S. ally and client that maintains an 
open door to Western investment, and because, in the case of East 
Timor, the United States bears major responsibility for the slaughter. 
The same is true of the victims of srare terror in Chile and Guaremala, 
U.S. clients whose basic institutional structures, including the state 
terror system, were put in place and maintained by, or with crucial 
assistance from, U.S. power, and who remain U.S. client states. Propa- 
ganda campaigns on behalf ofthese victims would conflict with govern- 
ment-business-military interests and, in our model, would not be able 
to pass through the filtering system, '^s 

Propaganda campaigns may be instituted either by the government 
or by one or more of the top media firms. The campaigns to discredit 
the government of Nicaragua, to support the Salvadoran elections as 
an exercise in legitimizing democracy, and to use the Soviet shooting 
down of the Korean airliner KAL do? as a means of mobilizing public 
suppOrt for the arms buildup, were instituted and propelled by the 
government. The campaigns to publicize the crimes of Pol Pot and the 
alleged KGB plot to assassinate the pope were initiated by the Reader's 
Digesu. with strong follow-up support from NBC-TV, the New York 
Times, and other major media companies. '^6 Some propaganda cam- 
paigns are jointly initiated by government and media; all of them re- 
quire the collaboration of the mass media. The secret of the 
unidirectionality of the politics of media propaganda campaigns is the 
multiple filter system discussed above: the mass media wUl allow any 
stories that are hurtful to large interests to peter out quickly, i f they 
surface at all. 



For stories that are usefuly the process will get under way with a series 
of government leaks, press conferences, white papers, etc., or with one 
or more of the mass media starting the ball rolling with such articles 
as Barron and Paul's "Murder of a Gentle Land" (Cambodia), or Claire 
Sterling's "The Plot to Kill the Pope," both in the Reader's Digest. If 
the other major media like the story, they will follow it up with the-ir 
own versions, and the matter quickly becomes newsworthy by familiar- 
ity. If the articles are written in an assured and convincing style, are 
subject to no criticisms or alternative interpretations in the mass media, 
and command support by authority figures, the propaganda themes 
quickly become established as true even without real evidence. This 
tends to close out dissenting views even more comprehensively, as they 
would now conflict with an already established popular belief. This in 
turn opens up further opportunities for still more inflated claims, as 
these can be made without fear of serious repercussions. Similar wild 
assertions made in contradiction of official views would elicit powerful 
flak, so that such an inflation process would be controlled by the gov- 
ernment and the market. No such protections exist with system-sup- 
portive claims; there, flak wUl tend to press the media to greater hysteria 
in the face of enemy evil. The media not only suspend critical judgment 
and investigative zeal, they compete to find ways of putting the newly 
established truth in a supportive light. Themes and facts-even careful 
and well-documented analyses-that are incompatible with the now 
institutionalized theme are suppressed or ignored. If the theme col- 
lapses of its own burden of fabrications, the mass media wiU quietly fold 
their tents and move on to another topic. 12s 

Using a propaganda model, we would not only anticipate definitions 
of worth based on utility, and dichotomous attention based on the same 
criterion, we would also expect the news stories about worthy and 
unworthy victims (or enemy and friendly states) to differ in quality. 
That is, we would expect official sources of the United States and its 
client regimes to be used heavily-and uncritically-in connection with 
one's own abuses and those of friendly governments, while refugees and 
other dissident sources will be used in dealing with enemies. We 
would anticipate the uncritical acceptance of certain premises in deal- 
ing with self and friends-such as that one's own state and leaders seek 
peace and democracy, oppose terrorism, and tell the truth-premises 
which will not be applied in treating enemy states. We would expect 
different criteria of evaluation to be employed, so that what is villainy 
in enemy states wUl be presented as an incidental background fact in 
the case of oneself and friends, do What is on the agenda in treating one 
case will be off the agenda in discussing the other. i3i We would also 



expect great investigatory zeal in the search for enemy villainy and the 
responsibility of high officials for abuses in enemy states, but dimin- 
ished enterprise in examining such matters in connection with one's 
own and friendly states. 

The quality of coverage should also be displayed more directly and 
crudely in placement, headlining, word usage, and other modes of 
mobilizing interest and outrage. In the opinion columns, we would 
anticipate sharp restraints on the range of opinion allowed expression. 
Our hypothesis is that worthy victims will be featured prominently and 
dramatically, that they wiU be humanized, and that their victimization 
win receive the detail and context in story construction that wUl gener- 
ate reader interest and sympathetic emotion. In contrast, unworthy 
victims will merit only slight detail, minimal humanization, and little 
context that wiU excite and enrage. 

Meanwhile, because of the power of establishment sources, the flak 
machines, and anti-Communist ideology, we would anticipate outcries 
that the worthy victims are being sorely neglected, that the unworthy 
are treated with excessive and uncritical generosity, 132 that the media's 
liberal, adversarial (if not subversive) hostility to government explains 
our difficulties in mustering support for the latest national venture in 
counterrevolutionary intervention. 

In sum, a propaganda approach to media coverage suggests a system- 
atic and highly political dichotomization in news coverage based on 
serviceabihty to important domestic power interests. This should be 
observable in dichotomized choices of story and in the volume and 
quality of coverage. In the chapters that follow we wiU see that such 
dichotomization in the mass media is massive and systematic: not only 
are choices for publicity and suppression comprehensible in terms of 
system advantage, but the modes of handling favored and inconvenient 
materials (placement, tone, context, fullness oftreatment) differ in ways 
that serve political ends. 


Worthy and 
Unworthy Victims 

abused in enemy states as worthy victims, whereas those treated with 
equal or greater severity by its own government or clients will be 
unworthy. The evidence of worth may be read from the extent and 
character of attention and indignation. We will show in this chapter that 
the U.S. mass media's practical definitions afworth are political in the 
extreme and fit well the expectations of a propaganda model. While this 
differential treatment occurs on a large scale, the media, intellectuals, 
and public are able to remain unconscious of the fact and maintain a 
high moral and self-righteous tone. This is evidence of an extremely 
effective propaganda system. 


A useful comparison can be made between the mass media's treatment 
of Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest murdered by the Polish police in 


October 1984, and the media's coverage of priests murdered within the 
U.S. sphere of influence. In our model, Popieluszko, murdered in an 
enemy state, will be a worthy victim, whereas priests murdered in our 
client states in Latin America will be unworthy. The former may be 
expected to elicit a propaganda outburst by the mass media; the latter 
will Qat g,eiiu%xc sustuned cQveiag.e. 

2.1.1. Quantitative aspects of 

Table 2-1 shows, on row t, the coverage of Popieluszko's murder and 
the trial of his murderers by the New York Times, Time and Newsweek, 
and CBS News. Rows 2 through 5 summarize the coverage in the same 
media given to religious personnel murdered in Latin America by 
agents of U.S. client states Row 2 shows the coverage given seventy- 
two individuals in a list of Latin American religious "martyrs" named 
by Penny Lernoux in her book Cry of the People; row 3 describes media 
coverage of twenty-three priests, missionaries, and other religious 
workers murdered in Guatemala between January 1980 and February 
1985. Row 4 summarizes the coverage of the murder of Archbishop 
Oscar Romero, of £1 Salvador, shot by an assassin in March 1980. Row 
5 shows the level of media coverage of four U.S. women religious 
workers, murdered in £1 Salvador in December 1980. 

The coverage of the Popieluszko murder not only dwarfs that of the 
unworthy victims, it constitutes a major episode of news management 
and propaganda. Nothing comparable can be found for victims within 
the free world. 2 It can be seen that the New York Times featured the 
Popieluszko case on its front page on ten different occasions, and the 
intensity of coverage assured that its readers would know who Popie- 
luszko was, that he had been murdered, and that this sordid violence 
had occurred in a Communist state. By contrast, the public would not 
have seen mention of the names of Father Augusto Ramirez Monast- 
erio, father superior of the Franciscan order in Guatemala, murdered 
in November 1983, or Father Miguel Angel Montufar, a Guatemalan 
priest who disappeared in the same month that Popieluszko was killed 
in Poland, or literally dozens of other rehgious murder victims in the 
Latin American provinces, who were sometimes given substantial cov- 
erage in the local press of the countries in which the murders took 

In fact, none of the extremely prominent victims of murder in Latin 


America, including Archbishop Romero and the four American church- 
women, received anywhere near the attention accorded Popieluszko. 
We will show below that the quality of treatment of the worthy and 
unworthy victims also differed sharply. While the coverage of the wor- 
thy victim was generous with gory details and quoted expressions of 
outrage and demands for justice, the coverage of the unworthy victims 
was low-keyed, designed to keep the lid on emotions and evoking 
regretful and philosophical generalities on the omnipresence of vio- 
lence and the inherent tragedy ofhuman hfe. This qualitative difference 
is already apparent in placement and editorializing: ten front-page 
articles on Popieluszko is a statement about importance, as is the fact 
of three editorials denouncing the Poles, without a single editorial 
denunciation for the murderers of the unworthy victims. 

By comparing rows i and 6 of table 2-1, we can see that for every 
media category the coverage of the worthy victim, Popieluszko, ex- 
ceeded that of the entire set of one hundred unworthy victims taken 
together. We suspect that the coverage of Popieluszko may have ex- 
ceeded that of aU the many hundreds of religious victims murdered in 
Latin America since World War 11, as the most prominent are included 
in our hundred. From the table we can also calculate the relative wor- 
thiness of the world's victims, as measured by the weight given them 
by the U.S. mass media. The worth of the victim Popieluszko is valued 
at somewhere between 137 and 179 times that of a victim in the U.S. 
client states;3 or,looking at the matter in reverse, a priest murdered in 
Latin America is worth less than a hundredth of a priest murdered in 

The claim is sometimes made that unworthy victims are so treated 
by the U.S. mass media because they are killed at a great distance, and 
are so unlike ourselves that they are easy to disregard. * Poland, how- 
ever, is farther away than Central America, and its cultural and business 
links with the United States are not as great as those of Latin American 
countries in general. Three of the rehgious victims among the twenty- 
three murdered in Guatemala (row 3) were American citizens, a consid- 
eration that failed to light a fire under the media. Even the four 
American churchwomen raped and murdered by members of the Sal- 
vadoran National Guard failed to elicit attention comparable with that 
accorded Popieluszko. Their relative valuation by the New York Times 
was less than a tenth that of the Polish priest, and we will show later 
that the coverage of these American victims displayed considerably less 
outrage and passion than that of Popieluszko.^ 

The coverage of Popieluszko was somewhat inflated by the fact that 
his murderers were quickly tried, and in a trial that American reporters 

TABLE 2-1 

Mass-Media Coverage of Worthy and Unworthy Victims (1): 
A Murdered Polish Priest versus One Hundred Murdered 

Religious in Latin America 



No. 9b 



No. ft 




of No. %„f 

I T row T 

No. ft 



Articles ! 


No. % 




* of 

row 1 


No. of 
No. of evening 
news news 
programs' programs 

No. % of No. * of 
row I row I 

1. Jerzy 

murdered on 
Oct, 19, 1984 

2. 72 religious 

victims in 
Latin Am«rie4, 

78 (100) 1183.0 (100) 10 (100) 

3 (100) I 16 (100) 313.0 (100) 

46 (100) 23 (100) 

8 (10.3) 117.5 (9.9) I 





23 religious, 
murdered in 

Guatemala Jan. 
19SQ-Feb. 1985* 



" .5 

(5 ') 





(10 ') 





(8 7) 


Oscar Romero, 





• (40) 











Mar. IS, 19S0 



4 U.S. religious 
women, murdered 
in EI Salvador, 





3 (30) 










Dec. 2, 19S0 



Total of 
lines 2-5 





8 (80) 










1. The media covengt for an 18<inonih period from the time of the first report of the victim's disappearance or murder. 

1, Listed in Penny Lemoui:, Cry olehe People (New York: Doubleday, 19S0), pp. A6A~65. We hsve omitted the names of SKven 
manyrs who had joined the guerrillas. Lemoui points out that her list is far from complctCj and is composed of only the 
better-known victims. 

J. The CBS Newi Index begin* in 1975; our blank figure for this category does not cover earlier years. 

4: This is a panial listing only, laktn from tabulations of "Religious Killed or 'Disappeared' in Guatemala," put out 
periodically by CONFREGUA: Con/erencM <U Religioios de Gvalfmala, 


could freely report. Almost every murder of the Latin American victims 
was carried out by official or paramilitary forces in crimes that were 
never investigated or prosecuted under law, and were on occasion even 
subject to active official cover-ups (as we describe below in connection 
with Romero and the four churchwomen). Only in the case of the four 
murdered American women, in El Salvador, was there sufficient pres- 
sure to force some kind of investigation and legal process. As we will 
see, this legal process was barely noted by the mass media (in contrast 
with their intense interest in the Popieluszko trial), and the press did 
not comment upon or explore the significance of the fact that there was 
a relatively serious trial in "totalitarian" Poland, while state murders 
were being carried out on a daily basis without any investigations or 
trials of the murderers in a number of countries within the U.S. sphere 
of influence called "fledgling democracies." 

2.1.2. Coverage of the Popieluszko 


Jerzy Popieluszko was an activist priest and a strong supporter of the 
Solidarity movement in Poland. In an effort to eliminate or intimidate 
him, members of the Polish secret police abducted him on October 19, 
1984. He was bestcDj bound, and gagged, and eventually thrown into 
a reservoir. His body was found several days later. In the furor that 
ensued, the police directly involved in the killing were quickly identi- 
fied and were eventually tried and given stiff jail sentences. As we have 
seen, the level of attention given to the case in the United Sfates was 
very great. The quality of coverage was also extremely well designed 
to score political points, and contrasts sharply with the quality of 
coverage of unworthy victims. 

2.1.2(a). Fullness and reiteration of the details of the murder and 
the damage inflicted on the victim. The coverage of the Popieluszko 
murder was notable for the fullness of the details regarding his treat- 
ment by the police and the condition of the recovered body. What is 
more, these details were repeated at every opportunity. The condition 
of the body was described at its recovery, at the trial when the medical 
evidence was presented, and during the testimony of the perpetrators 
of the crime. ^ At the trial, the emotional strain and guilt manifested by 
the police officers were described time and again, interspersed with the 
description of how Popieluszko pleaded for his life, and evidence of the 


brutality of the act. Numerous unflattering photos of the policemen on 
trial were presented, adding dramatic detail in support of the image of 
police viciousness. In the courtroom, the guilty police sit, one with "a 
nervous tic on the right side of his face [that] caused his dark mustache 
to twitch uncontrollably," with "tear- filled testimony [that] gave the 
trial some of its most dramatic moments" [Time, Feb. 18, 1985). The 
pohce weep openly or bow their heads in the face of the grisly evidence. 
Popieluszko himself was humanized, with descriptions of his physical 
characteristics and personality that made him into something more than 
a distant victim.'' In sum, the act of violence and its effects on Popie- 
luszko were presented in such a way as to generate the maximum 
emotional impact on readers. The act was vicious and deserved the 
presentation it received. The acts against the unworthy victims were 
also vicious, but they were treated very differently. 

2.1.2(b). Stress on indignation, shock, and demands for justice. In 

a large proportion of the articles on the Popieluszko murder there are 
quotations or assertions of outrage, indignation, profound shock, and 
mourning, and demands that justice be done. Steady and wholly sympa- 
thetic attention is given to demonstrators, mourners, weeping people, 
work stoppages, masses held in honor of the victim, and expressions of 
outrage, mainly by nonofficial sources. The population "continues to 
mourn," "public outrage mounted," the pope is deeply shaken, and 
even Jaruzelski condemns the action. The net effect ofthis day-in-day- 
out repetition of outrage and indignation was to call very forcible 
attention to a terrible injustice, to put the Polish government on the 
defensive, and, probably, to contribute to remedial action. 

2.1.2(c). The search for responsibility at the top. In article after 
article, the U.S. media raised the question: how high up was the act 
known and approved? By our count, eighteen articles in the New York 
Times stressed the question of higher responsibility, often with aggres- 
sive headlines addressed to that point. ^ A number of articles bring in 
a Soviet link ("Lawyer Seemingly [sic] Implies a Soviet Link in Slaying 
of Priest" Uan. 31, I985]), and Michael Kaufman, of the Times, twice 
manages to drag in the plot to kih the pope, which the U.S. press, led 
by the New York Times, had been trying to tie in with the Soviets and 
Bulgarians. 5 These links to the Soviet Union and the Bulgarian Con- 
nection are established by finding someone who says what the reporter 
and his paper want to dredge up — in no case was there a trace of 
supportive evidence. 

Time, Newsweek and CBS News played the same game of aggres- 


sively ralsmg questions about "Hints of a Contract from the Top" 

(Time) and "Keeping the Lid on Murder" (NewsweekX and Time raised 
questions about possible Soviet involvement as well as the Bulgarian 

2.1.2(d). Conclusions and follow-up. TheA'w York Times had three 
editorials on the Popieluszko case. In each it focused on the responsi- 
bility of the higher authorities and the fact that "A police state is 
especially responsible for the actions of its police" ("Murderous Po- 
land:' Oct. 30, 1984). It freely applied words like "thuggery," "shame- 
less," and "crude" to the Polish state. The fact that police officers were 
quickly identified, tried, and convicted it attributed to the agitation at 
home and abroad that put a limit on villainy. This is a good point, and 
one that we stress throughout this book: villainy may be constrained by 
intense publicity. But we also stress the corresponding importance of 
a refusal to publicize and the leeway this gives murderous clients under 
the protection of the United States and its media, where the impact of 
publicity would be far greater, lo The Times also fails to note the con- 
trast between murderous Poland and murderous EI Salvador-in the 
latter country, no murders of Salvadorans by the security forces or the 
death squads connected to them have ever resulted in a trial. The 
absence of such a comparison, as well as the failure of the Times to 
produce an editorial entitled "Murderous El Salvador," illustrates how 
a serviceable terrorism is protected in a propaganda mode, ii 


As shown on table 2-1, the unworthy seventy-two on Penny Lernoux's 
list of martyrs were subject to a grand total of eight articles in the New 
York Times, one in Newsweek, and none in Time, and they were never 
mentioned on CBS News in the years of index coverage (1975-78). A 
total of seven names on the Lernoux list were mentioned in the eight 
Times articles, and two different ones were discussed in Newsweek, 
which means that sixty-three of the murders were blacked out entirely 
in these important media vehicles. None of the eight articles in the New 
York Times had any details or dramatic quality that might evoke sympa- 
thetic emotion. They described the murders as remote events in a 
distant world (see the Times's description of the murder of Michael 



Jerome Cypher, in table 2-2). But that is a matter of editorial choice. 
The drama is there for the asking-only the press concern is missing. 

TABLE 2.2 

The Savageries Inflicted on Worthy 
and Unworthy Victims, as Depicted 
in the New York Times 

J6rzy Popieluaeko, a Polish priest, murdered on October 19, 1984, 

(1) Account al finding of body: "The sources who saw the priest's body on Tuesday, 
said it was badly bruised, indicating he had been beaten after he was kidnapped on a 

highway near the town of Torun. The autopsy also showed that Father Popicjuszko 
had been gagged at Ihe mouth and apparently tied with a rope from neck to feel so 
that if he struggled he would strsngle himself, they said. The sources said they could 
not coofim repons quoting members of the slain priest's family as saying he had 
suffered tcjuries to his jaw and skull" (Dec. 29, 1984). 

(2) Account at trial of murderers: "The film showed clearly that the priest's b^nt legs 
were tied to a noose around his neck in such a way that ifhe straightened them he would 
be strangled. The rope binding his hands had evidently come loose in the water. Several 
gags had also worked free and lay covering his clerical collar and the front of his 
cassock. From his legs hung a sack of rocks that, according to earlier testimony, had 
been carried aU aver Poland for the week that [he three 3$saL/ants were pursuing [he 
priest. When the cameras were trained on the priest's face, the narration by a police 
officer at the reservoir declared that 'there are clear signs of beating.' This was con- 
firmed by medical evidence offered Thursday by Dr. Maria Byrdy, a pathologist, who 
said Father Popieluszko had been sTruck more than a dozen times with a club" Gan. 
26, 1985). 


MichaelJerome Cypher, an fimerian priest murdered in Honduras. 

"The bodies were found in a dynamited well on an eastern Honduran estate " 

Guly 19, 1975). Note: There was no arrest or trial. 

Jaiin4 AldnOf a Spanish priest of the Catholic Action Workers movement, 
following his arrest in Chile: 

"Several days later a body with 10 bullet holes in the back was found in the Mapocho 
River. A Spanish consul identified the body as that of Father Alcina" (Oct. 1, 1973). 
NOle: There was no arrest or trial. 


Archbishop Oscar Amollo Romero, murdeml in EI Salvador on March 24, 


"Archbishop Romero was killed by a saiptr who gOt out of a red car, apparently stood 
just insidt the door of the Chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital, fired a single shot 
at the prelate and fled. The bullet struck the archbishop in the heart, according to a 
doctor at the hospital where the prelate was taken" (Mar. 25, 1980). AbMr There was 

no arrest or trial. 

Maria Sosario Godoy de Cutotu, st<:rtUry of the Mutual Support Group, 
murdered in Guatem.ala on April 4^ 1985: 

"The body of the secretary of the Support Group for Families of the Detained and 
Disappeared in Guatemala was found Friday in a ravine nine miles south of Guatemala 
City, according to a spokesman for the group. The bodies of her brother and young 
son were also in the car" (Apr. 7, 1985, p. 5).* Note: There was co arrest or trial. 

Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, Dorothy Katet, and <W<ji*ra Clarke, four American 
women murdered in EI Salvador, December 4, 1980: 

(1) Account at the finding of the bodies: 

"Witnesses who found the grave said it was about five feet deep. One woman had been 
shot in the face, another in the breast. Two of the women were found with their 
blood-stained underpants around their ankles" (Dec. 5, 1980).* 

(2) Account at the trial of the murderers: 

No description was given, although medicEil testimony was presented to the covutj see 

* For details that were not presented in this account, see the accompanying 

The murder of one of the seventy-two, Father Rutilio Grande, was 
an important landmark in the escalation of violence in El Salvador and 
in its effect on the newly appointed conservative archbishop of San 
Salvador, Oscar Romero. Rutilio Grande was a Jesuit, the pastor of 
Aguilares, and a progressive who helped organize peasants in self-help 
groups. He was strongly opposed by the local landlords, police, and 
military commanders, but he was a national figure in the Salvadoran 
church and was a friend of the archbishop. Rutiho Grande was shot to 
death, along with a teenager and a seventy-two-year-old peasant, while 
on his way to Mass on March 12, 1977. According to a church autopsy, 
the bullets that riddled the priest were of the same caliber as the 



Manzer guns used by the police. "By 'coincidence,' all telephone com- 
munications in the area were cut off within an hour of the triple assassi- 
nation. Police patrols normally active in the region mysteriously 
disappeared." 13 Archbishop Romero wrote to the president of El Salva- 
dor, Arturo Armando Molina^ urging a thorough investigation, which 
was promised. A week later, the church having established that it was 
probably pohce bullets that had killed the three victims, Romero wrote 
a harsher letter to Molina, noting the absence of a promised official 
report and pointing out that comments, "many of them unfavorable to 
your government," have been made. With continued inaction, Romero 
threatened to refuse church participation in any official government 
event unless the murders were investigated and the killers brought to 
justice. Romero's biographer writes: 

Six weeks later, the lawyer chosen by Romero to follow the case 
reported "an embarrassing and clear indifference toward the in- 
vestigation on the part of state organizations." A suspect ordered 
arrested by a judge was living unconcernedly in El Paisnal, and 
no one had ordered the bodies exhumed and examined. The bul- 
lets are still in the graves.'^ 

Rutilio Grande's murder followed a series of forcible expulsions of 
foreign clergy by the Molina government and several earlier murders 
of church personnel. Romero and the clergy deliberated at great length 
on their course of action in response to this escalation of the violence 
against them. They tried to get out their messages of concern, but many 
were not heard because of newspaper censorship. They finally decided 
to take dramatic action: temporary school closings, and implementation 
of the previously mentioned threat to refuse to support the government 
and other power groups on official occasions. 

This entire package of murder and church response was hardly 
lacking in drama and newsworthiness. Yet murder, the confrontation of 
the desperate church with a repressive state, and the dramatic acts 
carried out to try to mobilize support in its self-defense were subject 
to a virtual blackout in the U.S. mass media. The murder of Rutilio 
Grande was mentioned in Newsweek ("Priests in Peril," Aug. t, 1977), 
but it never once reached the audiences of the New York Times, Time, 
or CBS News. This was important in allowing the terror to go on 
unimpeded. To paraphrase the New York Times editorial on "murder- 
ous Poland": no publicity and agitation, no containment of terror. 



The murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the highest Catholic church 
official in El Salvador, was "big news," and its political implications 
were enormous. At the time of his murder, Romero had become the 
foremost and most outspoken critic of the policy of repression by 
murder being carried out by the U.S. -supported military government. 
In his last sermon, he appealed to members of the army and security 
forces to refuse to kiU their Salvadoran brethren, a call that enraged the 
officer corps trying to build a lower-class military that was willing to 
kill freely. Romero had been placed on right-wing death lists and 
received threats from the right wing, which from the beginning had 
been closely linked to the army and intelligence services, is Only a few 
weeks prior to his murder he had written a forceful letter to President 
Jimmy Carter opposing the imminent granting of U.S. aid to the junta 
as destructive of Salvadoran interests. The Carter administration had 
been so disturbed by Romero's opposition to its policies that it had 
secretly lobbied the pope to curb the archbishop. 16 

Romero, in short, was not merely an "unworthy" victim, he was an 
important activist in opposition to the local alliance of army and oligar- 
chy and to U.S. policy in El Salvador. The U.S. media's news coverage 
of the archbishop's murder and its follow-up reflected well his threat- 
ening role, reaching new levels of dishonesty and propaganda service 
in their coverage of this and related events. 

2.3.1. Details of the murder and 
public response 

The details of the Romero murder provided by the U.S. mass media 
were concise (see table 2-2). While there were expressions of shock and 
distress, there were very few quotations and expressions of outrage by 
supporters of Romero. There were no statements or quotations suggest- 
ing that the murder was intolerable and that the guilty must be found 
and brought to justice. The New York Time:: had no editorial condemn- 
ing, or even mentioning, the murder. It was quickly placed in the larger 
framework of alleged kilhngs by both the left and the right that were 
deeply regretted by Salvadoran and U.S. officials. 


2.3.2. The propaganda line: a 
reformist junta trying to contain 
the violence of right and left 

The Salvadoran and U.S. governments contended at the time of 
Romero's murder that the kihing going on in El Salvador was being 
done by extremists of the right and the left, not by the Salvadoran 
armed forces and their agents; and that the government was trying its 
best to contain the killings and carry out reforms. John Bushnell, of the 
State Department, stated before a House appropriations comminee 
that "there is some misperception by those who follow the press that 
the government is itself repressive in EI Salvador," when in fact the 
violence is "from the extreme right and the extreme left" and "the 
smallest pan" of the killings come from the army and security forces. " 
This statement was a knowing lie,18 contradicted by all independent 
evidence coming out ofEI Salvador and refuted by Archbishop Romero 
on an almost daily basis. In his letter to Carter sent on February 17, 
1980, the archbishop pointed out that aid to the junta had resulted in 
increasing repressive violence by the government, "amassing a total 
dead and wounded far higher than in the previous military regimes." 
And Romero explained to Caner that the idea that the junta was 
reformist was a myth, that "neither the junta nor the Christian Demo- 
crats govern the country," but, rather, power is in the hands of the 
army, serving itself and the oligarchy.20 

What gave Bushnell's statement a certain credibility was the fact that 
there had been a "reformist coup" by young army officers in October 
1979, and liberals and progressives entered the early junta. However, as 
Raymond Bonner points out. 

The young, progressive officers who carefully plotted the coup 
lost control of it as swiftly as they had executed it. Their ideals 
and objectives were subverted by senior, more conservative of- 
ficers who had the backing of [U.S. Ambassador] Devine and the 
U.S. Embassy in EI Salvador and key Carter administration offi- 
cials in Washington.2i 

The progressive elements on the junta found themselves entirely with- 
out power, and gradually exited or were forced out, along with large 
numbers from the cabinet and administration. Jose Napole6n Duarte 
joined the junta in March to serve as a fig leaf and public-relations 
agent of the army, but all those who were not satisfied to serve in that 
role departed. 22 



Once the old-guard military had seized control from the progressive 
officers in October 1979, it began a general war of extermination against 
aU progressive individuals and organizations in El Salvador. By the end 
of May, church sources reported 1,844 civilian deaths already in 1980, 
a figure that reached 10,000 by the end of the year, almost all at the 
hands of the government. A guerrilla war was forced on the center and 
left by the policy of unconstrained violence of the Carter-supported 
government. The government was not centrist and reformist-it was a 
military regime of the right, closely linked to the terrorist force 
ORDEN and the death squads, and it used them regularly as proxies. 
The paramilitary groups were not uncontrollable-they were doing 
what the army wanted them to do. The paramilitary forces and death 
squads of El Salvador had extensive interlocking relationships with the 
official military and security forces and their U.S. counterparts. There 
was a revolving door of personnel, close cooperation in sharing infor- 
mation, funding of the paramilitary groups by the official forces, and 
a division of labor between them. The paramilitary did jobs for which 
the official forces wished to disclaim responsibility. 23 

Although the paramilitary group ORDEN was formally abolished at 
the time of the October 1979 coup, ir was secrerly maintained and had 
a close relationship with the regular military establishment. According 
to one detailed account. 

The reformers had officially abolished ORDEN, rhe old informa- 
tion network. But . . . military officers suspicious of the young 
reformers secretly reestablished and expanded much of the old 
intelligence system into a grass-roots intelligence network that fed 
names of suspected subversives to military and paramilitary death 
squads. Four days after the coup, D'Aubuisson said in an inter- 
view, he was assigned by members of the high command to help 
reorganize ANSESAL [an intelligence communication network] 
inside a military compound under the chief of staffs office— out 
of the reach of civilians in ehe new jUDea.^^ 

This secret assignment ofD'Aubuisson was confirmed by junta member 
Colonel Jaime Abdul Gutierrez, and then Deputy Defense Minister 
Colonel Nicholas Carranza.^s 

The U.S. mass media, however, followed the Bushnell fonnula virtu- 
ally without deviation: there was a "civil war between extreme right and 
leftist groups" (New York Times, Feb. 25, 1980); the "seemingly well 
meaning but weak junta" was engaging in reforms but was unable to 
check the terror (Time, Apr. 7. 1980). The U.S. mass media had fea- 


rured heavily the reformist character of the revolutionary junta, but 

they uniformly suppressed evidence of the powerlessness, frustrations, 
and early resignation of the progressives, and their replacement by 
civilians willing to serve as "front men" for state terror. Rom4n 
Mayorga, an engineer and university professor who had been the unani- 
mous choice of the original coup ploners, resigned on January 3, 1980, 
along with Guillermo Manuel Ungo "and at least 37 of the highest 
ranking government officials, including the heads of all government 
agencies."26 But for the media, these events never happened, and the 
junta was still a "weak centrist government . . . beset by implacable 
extremes" (New York Times editorial, Apr. 28, I98o), not a right-wing 
government of massacre. Robin K. Andersen points out that 

None of the networks reported the final resignation of the 

junta members. Even CBS, which had reported at length on the 
appointment of Roman Mayorga, failed to report his resignation, 
or any of the others. For television news viewers, these political 
developments never happened. Television news coverage omitted 
every reference to this all-important political power struggle that 
could have accounted for the abuses that continued. . . . The 
civilian lack of control, and even their resignation, had no effect 
on the way in which the news characterized the junta; it continued 
to be labeled moderate. ^7 

And the Salvadoran government has continued to be "moderate" and 
"centrist" up to today. 

Other media suppressions aided in bolstering the myth of the neutral 
junta standing between the extreme right and the extreme left. On 
March 29, 1980, the New York Times carried a Reuters dispatch noting 
the resignation of three high Salvadoran officials, who, according to the 
article, "resigned last night in protest against the junta's inability to halt 
violence by leftist and rightist forces."28 The preceding day, an AP 
dispatch recorded the same resignations, but without any explanation 
of the reasons for this. One of the resigning officials. Undersecretary 
of Agriculture Jorge Alberto Villacorta, issued a public statement say- 
ing that 

1 resigned because 1 believed that it was useless to continue in a 
government not only incapable of puning an end to the violence, 
but a government which itself is generating the political violence 

through repression Recently, in one of the large estates taken 

over by the agrarian reform, uniformed members of the security 


forces accompanied by a masked person pointed out the directors 
OT the self-management group and then these individuals were 
shot in front of their co-workers. 

It can be seen from the statement that the reference in the Renter's 
dispatch to protest "against the junta's inability to halt violence by 
leftist and rightist forces" is a gross misrepresentation, and it is evident 
that an honest transmission of Villacorta's statement would have con- 
tradicted the propaganda line. 

At Archbishop Romero's funeral, on March 30, 1980, where ma.ny 
thousands gathered to pay tribute, bomb explosions and gunfire killed 
some forty people and injured hundreds more. The version of the event 
provided by U.S. Ambassador Robert White and the Salvadoran gov- 
ernment was that "armed terrorists of the ultra left sowed panic among 
the masses and did all they could to provoke the security forces into 
returning fire. But the discipline of the armed forces held."3o Joseph 
Treaster's account in the New York Times quotes Duarte that the 
violence was from the left. It also quotes a junta statement that the army 
was strictly confined to its barracks, and Treaster says, " was no 
sign of uniformed government forces in the plaza before or during the 
shooting." No other version of the facts is mentioned. However, a 
mimeographed statement on March 30, signed by twenty-two church 
leaders present at the funeral, claimed that the panic had been started 
by a bomb thrown from the national palace, followed by machine-gun 
and other shots coming from its second floor.^' This account was sup- 
pressed by Treaster and was never mentioned in the New York Times. 

In a follow-up article of April 7, 1980, Treaster repeats that on March 
30 the junta ordered all military forces into their barracks, and that they 
obeyed "even though they knew leftists with weapons were pouring into 
the central plaza." Treaster asserts this government claim as fact, and 
he continues to suppress sources and evidence that contradict this 
government allegation. He also fails to explain why the leftists would 
indiscriminately shoot their own people paying homage to the arch- 

The title of Treaster's article of April 7, 1980, is "Slaying in Salvador 
Backfires on Rebels." The article reads as follows: 

The murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero two weeks ago 
and the killing of 30 at his funeral may have benefited, rather than 
hurt, the ruling civilian-military junta, in the view of many diplo- 
mats, businessmen and Government officials. 

The extreme right is being blamed for the killing of the Arch- 


bishop and the extreme left is being blamed for the shooting and 
bombing that turned the crowded central plaza into chaos as 
Archbishop Romero was being eulogized. 

"It's not so much that the junta gained," said Robert E. White, 
the United States Ambassador to EI Salvador, "but that its oppo- 
nents on the extreme right and left have lost prestige. The net 
result is a boost in prestige for the junta." 

We may note how the title of the article transforms the murder of the 
leader of the dissident forces (and then of his followers at the funeral) 
from amoral issue deserving outrage into a question of political advan- 
tage, and turns that against the rebels. 1 1 would be hard to imagine the 
New York Times publishing an article on Popieluszko headed "Slaying 
in Poland Backfires on Solidarity Movement," featuring perhaps the 
playing up by the official press of demonstrator aggressiveness or vio- 
lence. Note also how the question of identifying the killer of Romero, 
and the government's obligation to seek justice, has been pushed into 
the background. Finally, there is the statement that "the extreme left 
is being blamed" for the deaths in the plaza. Use of the passive voice 
allows Treaster to avoid specification of just who is blaming the ex- 
treme left. He mentions as his sources for the article as a whole "many 
diplomats, businessmen and Government officials "-he doesn't even 
pretend to have talked to ordinary Salvadorans or church representa- 
tives-but his only citation near the statement that "the extreme left 
is being blamed" is the then-U.S. ambassador, Robert White. By relying 
only on government handouts and carefully avoiding readily available 
conflicting evidence and alternative views, the Times once again found 
the means of applying the usual formula of a deadly right offsetting a 
deadly left, with the junta favored by the U.S. government once more 
placed in the middle-with enhanced prestige! 

2.3.3. Misrepresentation of 
Romero's views 

As we noted earlier, Romero was unequivocal in laying the blame for 
the violence in El Salvador on the army and security forces, and he 
viewed the left and popular groupings as victims provoked into self- 
defense by violence and injustice. The peoples' organizations, he told 
Carter, are "fighting to defend their most fundamental human rights" 
against a military establishment that "knows only how to repress the 


people and defend the interests of the Salvadorean oligarchy." And in 
his di,ary, Romero completely repudiated the idea that the army was 
reacting to somebody else's violence-the security forces are instru- 
ments "of a general program of annihilation of those on the left, who 
by themselves would not commit violence or further it were it not for 
social injustice that they want to do away with."33 Thus Joseph 
Treaster's statement on the front page of the New York Times that 
Romero "had criticized both the extreme right and the extreme left for 
widespread killing and torture in El Salvador" (Mar. 31, 1980) is 
straightforward lying: Romero never accused the left of torture or 
widespread kiUing, he never equated the right and the left, and he was 
quite clear that the government (an agent of the right) was the primary 
killer. In this respect, Romero's perception, essentially the same as that 
privately conveyed to the press by the U.S. government, was grossly 
falsified in public by both the government and press. 

Interestingly, a year later, in an article marking the anniversary of 
the assassination of Archbishop Romero, Edward Schumacher, of the 
Times, noted that under Romero's successor. Archbishop Rivera y 
Damas, "the church has moved to a more centrist position in the civil 
war between the Government and the guerrillas. "35 Of course, if the 
church now takes a centrist position, as opposed to its position under 
Romero, this constitutes an admission that the theme played by 
Treaster and the Times a year previously of an even-handed Romero 
was a lie (which it was). Is it possible that the Times always finds the 
church in the middle and is lying one year later as well? The question 
must remain open, as his successor has been much more circumspect 
than Romero. The wilhngness ofthe right wing and the army to murder 
people like Romero might have affected Archbishop Rivera y Damas' s 
ability to speak his mind freely and forced public caution. The point 
does not arise for Schumacher and the Times. 36 

2.3.4. The loss of interest in 
responsibility at the top 

With Popieluszko, the media tried hard to establish that there was 
knowledge of and responsibility for the crime at higher levels of the 
Polish government. Soviet interest and possible involvement were also 
regularly invoked. With Romero, in contrast, no such questions were 
raised or pressed. 

The media did note that Romero opposed aid to the Salvadoran 


junta (which Carter provided anyway), but they failed to convey the 
depth of his hostility to U.S. policy and the importance of his opposi- 
tional role (although it was far more threatening to U.S. pohcy than 
Popieluszko was to the Soviet Union). The press never mentioned the 
special emissary sent by Carter to the pope in an attempt to bring 
Romero into line, or the fact that the head of the Jesuit order in Central 
America was called to Rome, probably in response to this U.S. pres- 
sure." The media also suppressed Romero's appeal to the military to 
refuse to kill, a fact that would have made much clearer how strongly 
opposed he was to the official policies, and how convenient his murder 
was to the rulers of £1 Salvador. 

Although Romero was far and away the most important establish- 
ment figure aligned with the popular movements, the media pretended 
at first that the affihation of his killers was a complete mystery. The 
Washington Post supposed an equal likelihood of a left- or right-wing 
source, and the Miami Herald noted on March 27 that "Both stood to 
benefit from any chaos his death might have created." (No American 
paper suggested that Popieluszko might have been murdered by Soli- 
darity sympathizers to discredit the Polish government.) This foolish- 
ness was the minority position-the bulk of the press suggested that the 
killer was probably a rightist, but of obscure connection. The reliable 
Duarte suggested that the killing was too professional to be indige- 
nous-it must have been a contract job from the outside. This view was 
dutifully repeated by the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and CBS 
News. 38 

If, as seemed very likely, the killer was a Salvadoran rightist, or 
someone in their employ, what was his connection, if any, with the army 
and security forces? We saw earlier that the linkages between the death 
squads and the army were close: there was at least some degree of 
common command, shared operations, and mutual protection. Could 
the killer have been a member of the armed forces? Given the links of 
the army to the paramilitary forces, wasn't it hkely that they knew who 
killed Romero? The U.S. mass media did not raise, let alone press, these 
questions. When D'Aubuisson's link to the murder became public 
knowledge, the media failed to make this a big issue, and his close 
relations to the official forces were not examined and discussed. This 
is evidence of a propaganda system at work. 

Any possible U.S. connection to the crime was, of course, "far out," 
and could not be raised in the U.S. media. That we don't do this sort 
of thing is an ideological premise of the patriotic press, no matter what 
the facts of recent history tell us.^^ But still, the question might have 
been raised whether the environment that the United States was help- 



ing to create in El Salvador, training and aiding a murderous army 
whose violence had driven Romero to passionate opposition, made the 
United States indirectly guilty of the murder? The press never dis- 
cussed this point either. The Times quotes Secretary of State Cyrus 
Vance on the murder: "Two weeks ago I wrote the Archbishop and said: 
'We share a repugnance for the violence provoked by both extremes 
that is taking the lives of innocent people. We deplore the efforts of 
those seeking to silence the voices of reason and moderation with 
explosives, intimidation and murder.' The paper points out that the 
letter from Vance was in reply to Romero's appeal to cease supplying 
arms. The article failed to include the gist of Romero's argument, and 
it did not quote that part of Vance's letter that rejected the archbishop's 
appeal. The report also did not take note of Vance's serious misre- 
presentation of the archbishop's position when he says that "We share 
a repugnance [for] . . . both extremes"; Romero attributed the killings 
to the army and the right, not "both extremes." We may note also that 
while Romero was victimized by the very forces that Vance supported, 
and Romero's forecasts seem to be vindicated by his own murder, there 
is no hint in the account of any irony or criticism of Vance and his 
associates. Here the press cannot plead lack of knowledge. As later 
conceded, the media knew very well that the security forces were the 
source of the violence. 

2.3.5. Murder unavenged-or 

The assassins of Archbishop Romero were never "officially" discovered 
or prosecuted, and he joined the ranks of the tens of thousands of other 
Salvadorans murdered without justice being done. But in contrast with 
Popieluszko, the U.S. mass media seemed quite uninterested in who 
committed the act or in demanding just retribution. 

Subsequently, a great deal of evidence became available showing 
that Roberto D'Aubuisson was at the center of a conspiracy to murder 
Romero. On the basis of numerous interviews with Arena party activists 
and U.S. officials, and examination of State Department cables, investi- 
gative reporters Craig Pyes and Laurie Becklund claimed in 1983 that 
D'Aubuisson had planned the assassination with a group of active-duty 
military officers, who drew straws for the honor of carrying out the 
murder.*' Former ambassador Robert White, who had access to State 
Department cables and other inside information during his tenure in 


office, also stated before a congressional committee in February 1984 
that "beyond any reasonable doubt" D'Aubuisson had "planned and 
ordered the assassination" of Archbishop Romero, and White gave 
details on the planning meeting and the subsequent execution of the 
trigger man to keep him quiet. Further evidence of D'Aubuisson's 
involvement in the murder came to light with the confession of Roberto 
Santivanez, a former high official in Salvadoran intelligence. According 
to Santivanez, the murder of Romero was planned and carried out by 
D'Aubuisson with the aid of former national guardsmen of Somoza, but 
"under the protection of General Garcia and Colonel Carranza."43 
Pyes's and Becklund's informants also indicated that D'Aubuisson was 
a subordinate and political ally of Carranza, who was the number two 
man in the Salvadoran military until his ouster under U.S. pressure in 
December 1980. Carranza then moved over to head the Treasury Pohce. 
D'Aubuisson also worked with the National Guard's G-2 central intelli- 
gence office while the guard was headed by General Eugenio Vides 
Casanova. Pyes and Becklund write that "During the time Vides com- 
manded the Guard, active-duty military officers working with the G-2 
were linked in State Department cables to the March 1980 assassination 

of Archbishop Oscar Amulfo Romero Note that Vides Casanova 

became minister of defense, the post he still holds, under the Duarte 

In short, there was substantial evidence concerning the identity of 
Romero's murderers, and there were significant links of the murders to 
the highest officials of the Salvadoran military establishment. In fact, 
a judicial investigation in EI Salvador headed by Judge Atilio Ramirez 
quickly pointed a finger at D'Aubuisson and General Medrano, a U.S. 
protege in £1 Salvador. But Ramirez soon fled the country after several 
threats and an attempt on his life, and active pursuit of the case in El 
Salvador ended. In exile. Judge Ramirez claimed that the criminal- 
investigation group of the police didn't arrive at the scene of the crime 
till four days after it was committed, and that neither the police nor the 
attorney general provided his court with any evidence. He concluded 
that there was "undoubtedly" a "kind of conspiracy to cover up the 
murder" from the very beginning. 

Needless to say. Judge Ramirez's testimony was not featured in the 
U.S. media, nor was the accumulating evidence of D'Aubuisson's in- 
volvement given significant play. It was back-page material at best, 
treated matter-of-factly and never put in a framework of indignation 
and outrage by the use of emotive language or by asking allies of 
Romero to comment on the evidence, and it never elicited strident 
demands for justice. To this day one will find no mention of the fact 


that the effective rulers of this "fledgling democracy" are military of- 
ficers who were closely associated with D'Aubuisson and his cabal and 
may well have been implicated in the assassination. 

After D'Aubuisson was caught in a raid on May 8, 1980, with docu- 
ments showing that he was planning a coup and with evidence of his 
involvement in the murder of Romero, he was arrested and faced with 
the threat of trial and imprisonment. An assembly of the entire officer 
corps of the Salvadoran army-seven hundred strong-was quickly 
convened, and demanded his release. He was turned loose shortly 
thereafter, with the concurrence of the minister of defense."*^ The 
documents found in his possession dropped out of sight. The security 
forces also raided the legal-aid office of the archbishopric, removing all 
of their ffles bearing on the assassination. At the previously mentioned 
meeting of the Salvadoran officer corps. Colonel Adolfo Majano, the 
last of the reformers in the "reformist" junta of 1979, was denounced, 
and he quickly exited from the junta, to be replaced by yet another 
hard-liner. The army had expressed its solidarity with the hard-line- 
death-squad right, and the junta was adjusted to meet this new threat 
to the image of a reformist junta, with Duarte advanced to president, 
serving as a figurehead for the benefit of Congress and the media, to 
ensure that arms would flow to the killers. 

The U.S. mass media gave little notice to this important display and 
consolidation of the power of the extreme right, and the semi-official 
vindication of the murderers of Archbishop Romero. This was telling 
evidence about the nature of power in El Salvador and the fictional 
quality of the claim that the government was centrist or reformist. 
Unbiased media would have featured and explained the meaning of this 
information. But these facts contradicted the Carter-Reagan mythol- 
ogy, so the media predictably remained silent about these events and 
continued to perpetuate the myth. On November 29, 1980, following the 
massacre of the leaders of the opposition in San Salvador, the Times 
suggested that there is "a severe challenge to the credibility" ofthe gov- 
ernment, but there is no hint that the revolt of May 1980 had changed 
their view of April 28 that this was a "weak centrist government." 

The media also adjusted nicely, then and later, to the rehabilitation 
of the probable murderer of Romero and his reintegration into the 
official power structure. As D Aubuisson sought high office and eventu- 
ally became president of the Salvadoran legislature, the U.S. mass 
media did not focus on his record as the probable organizer of the 
murder of Archbishop Romero and as the acknowledged leader ofthe 
death squads and amass murderer. Even the open anti-Semitism of this 
Fascist was kept under the rug.'*'' We would submit that if an anti- 


Semite and professional assassin, who was suspected of liaving orga- 
nized the murder of Popieluszko in Poland, ran for office and became 
head of the Polish legislature, there might have been a raised eyebrow 
or two in the U.S. media. 

Throughout this period, media coverage adopted a central myth 
contrived by the government, and confined its reporting and interpreta- 
tion to its basic premises: the "moderate government" that we support 
is plagued by the terrorism of the extremists of the left and right, and 
is unable to bring it under control. The U.S. government and the media 
understood very well that the violence was overwhelmingly the respon- 
sibility of both the U.S. -backed security forces, which were, and re- 
main, the real power in the country, and the paramilitary network they 
created to terrorize the population. But this truth was inexpressible. To 
this day the media maintain the central myth of earlier years, long after 
having conceded quietly that it was a complete fabrication. Reporting 
on the prospects for peace in El Salvador, Lindsey Gruson comments 
that "Today, death squads of the right and left no longer terrorize the 
population into submission and silence," thanks to the success of Presi- 
dent Duarte and his U.S. supporters in moving the country toward 
democracy-exactly as a propaganda model would predict."*^ 


On December 2, 1980, four U.S. churchwomen working in £1 Salva- 
dor-Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan. Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel- 
were seized, raped, and murdered by members of the Salvadoran 
National Guard. This crime was extremely inconvenient to the Carter 
administration, which was supporting the Salvadoran junta as an al- 
leged "reformist" government and trying to convince the public and 
Congress that that government was worthy of aid. While temporarily 
suspending military aid to El Salvador, the Carter administration 
sought a quick and low-keyed resolution of the case. It resumed aid at 
the drop of an announced rebel offensive, and-eontrary to its pro- 
mises-before there was any investigatory response by the Salvadoran 



government. A commission headed by William P. Rogers was quickly 
sent to El Salvador to inquire into the facts and offer U.S. aid in an 
investigation. The commission reported that it had "no evidence sug- 
gesting that any senior Salvadoran authorities were implicated in the 
murders themselves," but there is no indication that it ascertained this 
by any route beyond asking the authorities whether they were involved. 
The commission acknowledged that justice was not thriving in El Sal- 
vador,*' but it proposed no independent investigation, merely urging 
'the Salvadoran junta to pursue the case vigorously. It noted that the 
junta promised that the truth "would be pursued wherever it led any- 
where in the country at any level. "so Rogers was later to concede that 
perhaps he was a bit optimistic in expecting the Salvadoran junta to 
pursue the case seriously.51 

With the arrival of the Reagan administration, the already badly 
compromised concern to find the culprits diminished further, and the 
dominance of the interest in protecting the client regime in El Salvador 
became still more overwhelming. It was quickly clear that the whole 
business could be forgotten-along with the thousands of Salvadorans 
already killed-exceptfor the demands of public relations. The willing- 
ness to support any feasible cover-up was also quite evident. Secretary 
of State Alexander Haig stated before the House Committee on Foreign 
Affairs that the evidence "led one to believe" that the four women were 
killed trying to run a roadblock-a shameless lie that was soon acknowl- 
edged as such by the State Department. The Reagan ambassador to 
the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, went Haig one better, suggesting that the 
four women were political activists for the "Frente"-as with Haig's 
statement, an outright lie-hinting quite broadly that they were fair 
game. 53 

Although Kirkpatrick also asserted that the Salvadoran government 
"unequivocally" was "not responsible" for the murders, evidence was 
soon available that showed that members of the National Guard had 
killed the four women. The administration then moved to the position 
that it was clear that the local guardsmen had "acted alone." This was 
asserted and reiterated despite the absence of any supportive investiga- 
tion, and important leads suggesting the contrary were ignored. A 
propaganda model would expect that this preferred government expla- 
nation would be honored by the mass media, and that in contrast with 
the Popieluszko case, where useful points could be scored by searching 
for villainy at the top, the mass media would now be less eager to find 
that which their government was anxious to avoid. 

The difference between the murder of the four women and the 



thousands of others uninvestigated and unresolved in El Salvador was 
that the families of these victims were Americans and pressed the case, 
eventually succeeding in getting Congress to focus on these particular 
murders as a test case and political symbol. This forced these killings 
ooto the political agenda. A trial and convictions were ultimately re- 
quired as a condition for certification and aid to the military govern- 
ment of El Salvador. Both the Reagan administration and the 
Salvadoran military were thus obligated to "see justice done "-in this 
one instance. It took three-and-a-half years for justice to triumph in 
this one case, with a lid still kept on top-level involvement. It was a 
challenge to the mass media to present these murders, and the delayed 
and aborted outcome, in such a way as to keep indignation low and to 
downplay the quality of a system that murdered the women and had 
to he forced to find a set of low-level personnel guilty of the crime 
(which it took them years to do). The media met this challenge with 
flying colors. 

2.4.1. Details of the savagery 

The finding of Popieluszko's body was front-page news for the New 
York Times-in fact, the \a\i\sAfailure to find his body made the front 
page-and in aU the media publications analyzed here, the details of 
his seizure, the disposition of his body, and the nature of his wounds 
were recounted extensively and with barely concealed relish (see table 
2-2)_ These details were also repeated at every opportunity (and, most 
notably, at the trial). The finding of the bodies of the four women, by 
contrast, was a back-page item in the TimeSy and in all four of the media 
institutions in our sample the accounts of the violence done to the four 
murdered women were very succinct, omitted many details, and were 
not repeated after the initial disclosures. No attempt was made to 
reconstruct the scene with its agony and brutal violence, so that the 
drama conveyed in the accounts of Popieluszko's murder was entirely 
missing. The murder of the four churchwomen was made remote and 

The Time account, for example, after giving the names of the vic- 
tims, says, "Two of the women had been raped before being shot in the 
back of the head." The New York Times account, shown in table 2-2, 
is also quite succinct. The Rogers Commission report pointed out that 
one of the victims had been shot through the back of the head with a 
weapon "that left exit wounds that destroyed her face." The Rogers 


report also noted that those present at the disinterment found "exten- 
sive" wounds and that "the bodies were also bruised." Raymond Bon- 
ner's account, in Weakness and Deceit, noted that 

In the crude grave, stacked on top of each other were the bodies 
of four women. The first hauled out of the hole was Jean Donovan, 
twenty-seven years old, a lay missionary from Cleveland. Her face 
had been blown away by a high calibre bullet that had been fired 
into the back of her head. Her pants were unzipped; her under- 
* wear twisted around her ankles. When area peasants found her, 
she was nude from the waist down. They had tried to replace the 
garments before burial. Then came Dorothy Kazel, a forty-year- 
old Ursuline nun also from Cleveland. At the bottom of the pit 
were MaryknoU nuns Ita Ford, forty, and Maura Clarke, forty- 
nine, both from New York. AJJ the women had been executed at 
close range. The peasants who found the women said that one had 
her underpants stuffed in her mouth; another's had been tied over 
her eyes. All had been raped. 

We may note the failure of Time and the New York Times to mention 
the bruises (which both of these publications mentioned and repeated, 
as regards Popieluszko); the failure to mention the destruction ofJean 
Donovan's face; the suppression of the degrading and degraded use of 
the nuns' underwear;** the failure to give the account of the peasants 
who found the bodies. These and other details given by Bonner and 
suppressed by Time and the New York Times (and also Newsweek and 
CBS News) add emotional force and poignancy to the scene. Such 
details are included for a Popieluszko, but not for four American 
women murdered by a U.S. client state. The Rogers report also pointed 
out that the forensic surgeons sent to the scene of the crime by the 
junta, at the urging of Ambassador Roben White, refused to perform 
an autopsy on the ground that no surgical masks were available. This 
touch, which would have cast the junta and its agents in a bad light, 
was also omitted from U.S. media accounts. 

In the Popieluszko case, both the finding of the body and the trial 
were occasions for an aggressive portrayal of the details of the act of 
murder and the condition of the body. The mass-media reticence on 
such matters at the time of the finding of the bodies of the four women 
was exceeded by their restraint at the trial. Lydia Chavez, of the New 
York Times, who attended the trial, notes that there were eight hours 
of testimony and seven hours of argument that focused on the women's 
work in El Salvador "and on the details of their kidnappings and 


deaths," but heT article gave no details whatsoever on the medical 

2.4.2. Lack of indignation and 
insistent demands for justice 

In the Popieluszko case, the press conveyed the impression of intoler- 
able outrage that demanded immediate rectification. In the case of the 
murder of the four American women, while the media asserted and 
quoted government officials that this was a brutal and terrible act, it was 
not declared intolerable, and the media did not insist on (or quote 
people who demanded) justice. The media relied heavily, on "senior 
officials" of the U.S. and Salvadoran governments, who expressed a 
more resigned view of the situation and were prepared to allow the 
Salvadoran system of justice to work things out. Correspondingly, the 
media also moved into a philosophical vein-the women, as Time 
points out, were "victims of the mindless, increasing violence" of El 
Salvador (Dec. 15, 1980). With Popieluszko, it was live government 
officials who committed the crime, not blind forces (that are hard to 
bring to book). 

Even the funeral and memorial services for the women in the United 
States were not allowed to serve as an occasion for outrage and a 
demand for justice. For the most part, they were ignored and sup- 
pressed. The York Times (Dec. 8, 1981) gave a tiny, back-page, UPI 
account of the memorial service for Sister Dorothy Kazel, featuring the 
apolitical statement by Bishop Anthony M. Pilla that "The life of a 
missionary has never been easy or glamorous." 

We must consider, too,, that as Ambassador Kirkpatrick indicated, 
the victims may have been asking for it. As Newsweek observed (Dec. 
15,1980), "The violence in El Salvador is likely to focus with increasing 
ferocity on the Roman Catholic Church. Many priests and nuns advo- 
cate reform, and some of them are militant leftists. Such sentiments 
mean trouble, even for more moderate members of the clergy. (Note 
here also the impersonality of "the violence"-nowhere in the article 
is there a suggestion that the U.S. -backed government initiated, and 
was doing the bulk of, the murdering.) In the case of Popieluszko, by 
contrast, the media never once suggested that he was a regrettable 
victim of escalating conflict between the state and rebellious forces (or 
between East and West). That situation was much simpler than the one 
in El Salvador: Popieluszko was murdered by officials of the state, and 


this was intolerable. The complexities and resort to philosophical in- 
anities about unallocable "violence" are reserved for deaths in the 

2.4.3. The lack of zeal in the 
search for villainy at the top 

As we saw earlier, in the Popieluszko case the mass media eagerly, 
aggressively, and on a daily basis sought and pointed to evidence of 
top-level involvement in the killing. In the case of the killings of the 
four women, we can observe a completely different approach. Here the 
media found it extremely difficult to locate Salvadoran government 
involvement in the murders, even with evidence staring them in the 
face. Their investigatory zeal was modest, and they were happy to 
follow the leads of ("Trust me") Duarte and U.S. officials as the case 
unfolded. They played dumb. The Salvadoran army and security forces 
had been killing Salvadorans, in the same way they had killed the four 
women, for months. What is more, the churches with which the women 
were connected had been recently threatened by the army. More direct 
evidence was that local peasants had been forced to bury the bodies by 
the local military. But the media did not use this information to help 
them find the locus of the murders. 

The initial line of the U.S. and Salvadoran governments was that 
there was no proof of military involvement, although the military's, 
concealment of the bodies was not proper. A statement issued by the 
junta on December 8 claimed that the murderers were "terrorists ofthe 
extreme right,"55 and Duarte reiterated this view to the press, which 
passed it along. In keeping with the government line, twenty days after 
the murders, the New York Times still spoke only of "unidentified 
assailants," although the leads to the National Guard were already 
plentiful, and it repeated the Rogers report finding that the security 
forces may have tried to "conceal the deaths" after the bodies had been 
found. 56 

Gradually, so much evidence seeped out to show that the women had 
been murdered by members of the National Guard that the involve- 
ment of government forces could no longer be evaded. A two-part 
process of "damage limitation" ensued, expounded by Salvadoran and 
U.S. officials and faithfully reflected in the media. One was a distinction 
between the government and the National Guard. In the Popieluszko 
case, the reader was never allowed to forget that the murdering police 


were part of the Polish government. In the case of the four American 
women, it was barely evident in the mass media that the killers had any 
connection with the Salvadoran government. This was in keeping with 
the basic myth, also consistently foHowed by the media, that the Sal- 
vadoran government was reformist and centrist, trying to control kill- 
ings by extremists of the right and left." This fabrication allowed a 
two-track system of massive killing by the army and its affiliates and 
simultaneous claims of regret by the reformers unable to control the 
extremists. This was reminiscent of the heyday of mass murder in 
Argentina, when the New York Times regularly portrayed the junta and 
people like the recently convicted General Videla as moderates "unable 
to control the right-wing extremists" who were killing people. 

The most important goal of the immediate damage-containment 
process was to stifle any seriotis investigation ofthe responsibility ofthe 
officials of the Salvadoran government. The Salvadoran strategy was 
foot-dragging from beginning to end, as the idea of convicting soldiers 
for killing anybody was contrary to Salvadoran practice, and, moreover, 
there is little doubt that the responsibility for the crime went high. The 
U.S. official strategy, once it was clear that the National Guard was 
responsible for the kiUing, was to get the low-level killers tried and 
convicted-necessary to vindicate the system of justice in EI Salvador, 
at least to the extent of keeping the dollars flowing from Congress- 
while protecting the "reformers" at the top. On September 30, 1981, 
Ambassador Deane Hinton stated with assurance that the local national 
guardsmen "were acting on their own," although internal State Depart- 
ment documents of the time recognized that the Salvadoran investiga- 
tion had been a joke, and other evidence existed suggesting top-level 
involvement. 59 Nonetheless, the official position was clear. To go along * 
with the official line, the mass media had to stop investigating high-level 
involvement and even to suppress evidence emerging from other 
sources. And so they proceeded to do this. 

After a two-month investigation of the murders, the reporter John 
Dinges filed a story through Pacific News Service that showed the 
murders to have been preplanned in some detail.'''' First, there were 
intercepted radio communications indicating military discussions ofthe 
arrival ofthe women at the airport, and other evidence of close surveil- 
lance of their flight plans, all suggesting a coordinated and extensive 
military operation. Second, a former deputy minister of planning de- 
scribed to Dinges a half-hour presentation by Salvadoran Defense 
Minister Guillermo Garcia in the national palace, denouncing the nuns 
and priests in the very area of the murders and stating that something 
must be done, only two weeks prior to the murders. 



In a remarkable feat of self-censorship, most of the mass media 
completely ignored the Dinges findings. Dinges's report appeared in the 
Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and some fifteen other papers, 
but not a word of it found its way into the New York Times, Time, 
Nevaweek, or CBS News, and its leads were not pursued by any media. 
Instead, the media kept repeating the assurances of Duarte and U.S. 
officials that they were satisfied that the killings did not go beyond the 
local national guardsmen, and that the matter would be pursued dili- 
gently through proper legal channels. 

In March 1984, Colonel Roberto Santivanez, a high official in Sal- 
vadoran intelligence, agreed to "talk" about the death-squad network 
in El Salvador, and his claims found their way onto CBS News and the 
front page of the New York Times. Santivanez gave highly credible 
details about the murder of the four women, indicating that the act had 
been committed on the specific order of Colonel Oscar Edgardo Casa- 
nova, who was in charge of the zone in which the killings took place. 
Colonel Casanova was transferred to another assignment two weeks 
after the murder as part of the official cover-up. His first cousin Eu- 
genio Vides Casanova, the minister of defense chosen by Duarte and 
head of the National Guard in December 1980, knew about the murder 
order by his cousin, as did Duarte. Although this crushing evidence 
implicated a high officer in the murder and the current minister of 
defense and Duarte in the cover-up, there was no follow-up to this 
story, no connection back to the Dinges story of high-level discussions 
of the need to do something about the rehgious workers-no editorials, 
no indignation, and no pressure for action. 

In sum, the leads provided by Dinges, and the testimony of Santi- 
vanez, strongly suggest that the killing of the women was based on a 
high-level decision. The evidence is even clearer that middle-level 
officials of the government ordered the killing, and that the highest- 
level officials engaged in a continuing and systematic cover-up. In the 
Polish case, the evidence of top-level involvement was never forthcom- 
ing, bur the issue was pursued by the U.S. mass media relentlessly. In 
the case of the four churchwomen, where the evidence of top-level 
involvement was abundant, the U.S. mass media failed to press the 
matter, or even to engage in the pursuit of obvious investigative leads. 

We cannot describe here the full details ofthe failure ofthe Salvado- 
ran process of justice, which never moved forward except under U.S. 
pressure and threats. The mass media did at one point berate the 
Salvadoran government for "stonewalling" the investigation,63 but the 
media entirely failed to capture the depth and scope ofthe stonewalling 
process, or to remark on its significance in this "fledgling democracy," 


and they generally transmitted Salvadoran and U.S. government claims 
about the state of the process without sarcasm or expressions of out- 
rage. If they had given full details, the Salvadoran government would 
have been thoroughly discredited. Thus, the extensive evidence con- 
cerning official Salvadoran refusals to take action or to interrogate 
relevant witnesses, and concerning threats to witnesses, lawyers, and 
judges-which would have been aired with delight if applicable to a 
Polish investigation-were ignored. 

A few illustrations of the Salvadoran proceedings will have to suffice 
here. Two years after the crime, for example* 

. . .-the prosecutors expressed ignorance of the testimony [in the 
court record] of former guardsman Cesar Valle Espinoza, dated 
August 9, 1982, which quotes Subsergeant Colindres Aleman as 
stating on December 2, 1980, that there were "superior orders" to 
apprehend the women. They were also ignorant of the statement 
offormer National Guard Sergeant Dagoberto Martinez, taken by 
the FBI in Los Angeles, California, which establishes the exis- 
tence of a cover-up of the crime as early as December 1980.64 

A second illustration of the process: two of three judges assigned to the 
case resigned for fear of their Mves. As we noted. Judge Ramirez, who 
was investigating the Romero murder, fled for the same reason. This 
line of evidence has cumulative weight, but it was never treated as a 
whole by the press (and was barely mentioned as individual items of 
back-page news). A third illustration: according to former ambassador 
Robert White, two national guardsmen who might have been able to 
link higher-ranking officers to the murders of the women were killed 
by military death squads, then listed as missing in action. A final 
illustration: when the Salvadoran triggermen were finally assigned at- 
torneys, one of the three, Salvador Antonio Ibarra, was prepared to 
defend the men seriously. His colleagues pressed Ibarra to abide by the 
statement that "the possibility of a cover-up had been thoroughly 
investigated" and rejected. He refused to go along with this request, 
with the consequence that on October 3°, 1983, Ibarra was seized by the 
National Guard and tortured at its headquarters.^^ Released only under 
U.S. pressure, Ibarra fled the country, leaving the way clear for a lawyer 
team that would accept the notion that there had been a "thorough 
investigation" of top-level involvement. This last incident alone made 
it into the mass media in isolated and fleeting treatment; the others, and 
the package, were not featured in the free press. 

The U.S. government also engaged in a systematic cover-up--of 


blatantly prejudged the case. The only plausible rationale for the U.S. 

cover-up is that the administration wanted to minimize adverse public- 
ity concerning the performance of its murderous client. Information on 
what was really going on, or its own internal analyses of the case or 
appraisals of the Salvadoran legal process, would make the client look 
bad. The administration hoped that the case would "go away," but until 
that happened, it wanted the publicity flow to be under its control. 

Part of the reason the administration wanted control was to allow it 
to claim reasonable progress in the pursuit of the case whenever the 
military government was due for more money. As with other right-wing 
satellites, "improvement" is always found at money-crunch time. In its 
July 1982 certification report, the State Department found that "sub- 
stantial progress" had been made in the case and predicted a trial in 
the fall of 1982. In early 1983J the certification report noted "significant 
developments" in the case. This manipulation of evidence to protect 
the flow of arms and money to the regime would not be easy with full 
disclosure— or with a critical and honest press. 

This cover-up of the SaJvadoran judicial process, even though four 
murdered American women were involved, did not arouse the press to 
indignation or satire, nor did it cause them to provide more than mini- 
mal coverage of the inquiry. 

2.4.4. The trial-five national 
guardsmen for $19.4 million 

The trial of the five immediate killers of the four women should have 
been presented in a Kafkaesque framework, but the U.S. media played 
it very straight. The trial took place three-and-a-half years after the 
acts of murder, despite the fact that the triggermen were immediately 
identified and despite enormous U.S. pressure. Two of three judges 
assigned ro the case had resigned out of fear for theif Mves, and the only 
independent defense attorney had fled the country after a session of 
torture at National Guard headquarters. The defense at the trial made 
no effort to defend the men on the grounds of "orders from above," 
although this is a standard defense in such cases, and significant evi- 
dence was available for use in this instance. The mass media failed to 
note the point, although it suggests fear, a deal, or both, and although, 
as we saw in the Popieluszko case, the media are sometimes immensely 
alert to cover-ups. In March 1984, former intelligence officer Santi- 



both the Salvadoran cover-up and the facts of the case. The U.S. mass 
media, while briefly noting the Salvadoran stonewalling, failed to call 
attention to the equally important lies and suppressions of their own 
government. As we have pointed out, both the Carter and Reagan 
administrations put protection of its client above the quest for justice 
for four U.S. citizens murdered by agents of that government. The U.S. 
government's stonewalling to protect its client took many forms. One 
was an active collaboration in the Salvadoran cover-up. Former Na- 
tional Guard sergeant Dagoberto Martinez was allowed to emigrate to 
the United States in December 1980, and although a subsequent inter- 
view by the FBI indicated that Martinez admitted knowledge of the 
perpetrators of the crime and a failure to report that information-in 
violation of Salvadoran law-no action was taken against him. U.S. 
officials also reiterated that there was no reason to believe that higher- 
level officials knew about the crime or participated in it, when they had 
clear knowledge of a cover-up and a refusal to investigate. *i The State 
Department also regularly lied about the thoroughness ofthe investiga- 
tion. Ambassador Hinton stated in public that national guardsman 
Perez Nieto "was thoroughly interrogated and repeatedly denied that 
anyone superior to him had ordered him to watch the women." A State 
Department cable, however, describes Nieto's testimony as "incom- 
plete, evasive, and uncooperative. "68 

A second form of official U.S. participation in the cover-up was a 
refusal to make public information on the Salvadoran investigation and 
evidence uncovered by the United States itself. The Rogers report was 
released belatedly, in a version that edited out the original report's 
statement about the sad state of the Salvadoran system of justice. In 
response to a growing chorus of criticism of the delays. Judge Harold 
R. Tyler was appointed by the U.S. government to carry out a further 
investigation. His report was kept under wraps for a long time, again 
apparently because it had some serious criticism of the Salvadoran 
judicial process that would have interfered with Reagan administration 
plans to claim progress every time such certification was required. 
The families ofthe victims and their attorneys regularly found the U.S. 
government unwilling to release information on the case. The argument 
given was that the information was sensitive, and that releasing it would 
interfere with the legal process in El Salvador. As the Salvadoran 
process was a sick joke, moving only in response to U.S. threats, the 
official rationale was transparently fraudulent. Furthermore, Duarte 
was regularly making statements that the arrested guardsmen were 
surely guilty, and that nobody higher than them was involved, which 


vfinez stated that the guardsmen knew that "If they don't name Casa- 
nova, they will get out of jail as soon as it is feasible. "7o This testimony 
was not referred to in the trial context-the media played dumb. 

Like the Salvadoran elections of 1982 and 1984, this trial was 
thoroughly American in staging and motivation. As Ana Carrigan put 

Security in the courtroom was in the hands of a special Judicial 
Protection Unit, formed and trained in Glencoe, Alabama; the 
jurors were driven to the courtroom in the morning and returned 
to their homes after the verdict in bullet-proof American embassy 
vehicles; meals and camp beds were provided by the embassy so 
that if necessary the jurors and the staff of the court could sleep 
overnight within the protection of the guarded courthouse; and 
when the electricity failed, just as the prosecution began to make 
its presentation, light was restored by means of hurricane lamps 
delivered by embassy staff 

The stakes were U.S. dollars. Congress had frozen $19.4 milhon pend- 
ing the favorable outcome of the case. Within twenty-four hours of the 
decision, the State Department, announcing that justice had been done, 
released the money to the charge of Minister of Defense Vides Casa- 
nova, who had been head of the National Guard on December 4^ 1980, 
when the murders took place, whose first cousin, according to Colonel 
Santivanez, had given the direct order to kill, and who had so effectively 
protected his cousin and stalled the prosecution ofunderlings for three- 
and-a-half years. 

In conformity with the predictions of a propaganda model, the mass 
media failed entirely to capture the quality ofthis scene-the American 
omnipresence, the courtroom security, the failure of the defense to 
press the responsibility of the higher authorities, the role of Vides 
Casanova, the literal money transaction for justice in this single case, 
which dragged on for three-and-a-half years. Newsioeek found the re- 
sult a "remarkable achievement," in an article entitled "A Defeat for 
a Death Squad" aune 4, 1984), despite the fact that it was the National 
Guard that killed the women. The article does stress the difficulties in 
bringing and winning the case, and the possibility of a cover-up of 
higher-level personnel, but it does not use this information to point up 
the nature of the system being supported by the United States. It also 
closes out the discussion with reference to the Tyler report discounting 
high-level involvement, without quoting the report's acknowledgment 
of "some evidence supporting the involvement of higher-ups" or men- 



tianing the repon's admission of the limits of its information. No refer- 
ence is made to Santivanez or the Dinges report: Newsweek sticks to an 
official source, and misreads it. 


The modern history of Guatemala was decisively shaped by the U.S.- 
organized invasion and overthrow aCthe democratically elected regime 
of Jacobo Arbenz in June 1954. Since that time, while Guatemala has 
remained securely within the U.S. sphere of influence, badly needed 
economic and social refonDs were put off the agenda indefinitely, politi- 
cal democracy was stifled, and state terror was institutionalized and 
reached catastrophic levels in the late 19705 and early 19808. Given the 
client status of Guatemala and the fact that the antidemocratic counter- 
revolution served important elite interests, a propaganda model sug- 
gests that its victims will be "unworthy," which should be reflected in 
both the quantity and quality ofmedia attention. Furthermore, whereas 
victimization in Soviet client states like Poland and Czechoslovakia is 
regularly traced back to the Soviet occupations, a propaganda model 
would predict that the U.S. media will not explain the contemporary 
Guatemalan environment of state terror as a natural product of the U.S. 
intervention in 1954 (and thereafter). On the contrary, we would expect 
the United States to be portrayed as a benevolent and concerned by- 
stander, trying its very best to curb abuses of right and left extremists. 

Before looking at the media's handling of Guatemala, however, let 
us step back for a brief review of the crucial period 1945-54 and its 
sequel to set the stage for an examination of the media's role in the 
£980s. Arbenz and his predecessor, Juan Arevalo, Jed the first demo- 
cratic system in Guatemalan history. During the decade of their rule, 
newspapers, social groups, unions, peasants, and political parties could 
organize without fear of repression or murder. gyj (jjig fragile democ- 
racy rested on a base of concentrated land ownership and foreign 
control of land and strategic facilities that was a constant threat to its 
independence and political freedom, as well as a human disaster. The 
struggle for unionization and land reform during the democratic decade 
was motivated in part by a desire to build a mass constituency that 
would provide an institutional base for democracy.'* Each progressive 


move by both Arevalo and Arbenz was greeted with fierce hostility by 
the local oligarchy, the multinational corporate community, and the 
U.S. governmentJ4 "Communism" was found to be in control, or a 
threat, from the time trade unions were allowed to organize in 1947, and 
Arbenz's modest and effective land reform was the last straw.'^ With 
U.S. initiative, organization, funding, and direct psychological warfare 
and terror operations, a tiny mercenary army ousted Arbenz and in- 
stalled an "anti-Communist" regime. 

From 1954 to the present day, neither reform nor democracy, let 
alone radical change, has been possible in Guatemala. The main reason 
for this is that the forces into whose hands the United States delivered 
that country in 1954 "bitterly opposed any change that might affect, 
however slightly, their entrenched pos.tion,"76 and they had learned 
from the 1945-54 lesson that democracy moves inexorably toward re- 
form and threats to privilege in a system of extreme inequality. The 
very brief interludes of tentative openness after 1954 witnessed the 
quick emergence of protective organizations of urban workers and the 
peasantry, strikes, and reformist and radical parties and organizations. 
As Piero Gleijeses puts it, "in the last months of the Arana period 
(I97o-74], the repression had acquired a more selective character, and 
on repeated occasions Laugerud [Arana's successor, 1974-78] refrained 
from 'settling' strikes by force."77 But the feebleness of the reforms and 
the awakened hopes and pressures forced a further choice; and "given 
the nacure of the regimcj" the wave of terror thar followed "was the 
only logical choice" for the Guatemalan ruling class. 

Another reason for the failures of both reform and democracy has 
been ongoing U.S. influence. The U.S. establishment found the plural- 
ism and democracy of the years 1945-54 intolerable, and it eventually 
ended that experiment. In the succeeding thirty-two years of U.S. 
guidance, not only has Guatemala gradually become a terrorist state 
rarely matched in the scale of systematic murder of civilians, but its 
terrorist proclivities have increased markedly at strategic moments of 
escalated U.S. intervention. The first point was the invasion and coun- 
terrevolution of 1954, which reintroduced political murder and large- 
scale repression to Guatemala following the decade of democracy. The 
second followed the emergence of a small guerrilla movement in the 
early 1960s, when the United States began serious counterinsurgency 
eCI) training of the Guatemalan army. In 1966, a further small guerrilla 
movement brought the Green Berets and a major CI war in which 
10,000 people were killed in pursuit of three or four hundred guerrillas. 
It was at this point that the "death squads" and "disappearances" made 
their appearance in Guatemala. The United States brought in police 


training in the 1970s, which was followed by the further institutionaliza- 
tion of violence. The "solution" to social problems in Guatemala, 
specifically attributable to the 1954 intervention and the form of U.S. 
assistance since that time, has been permanent state terror. With 
Guatemala, the United States invented the "counterinsurgency state." 

The special role of the army in the counterinsurgency state gradually 
elevated its status and power, and eventually gave it the institutional 
capacity to rule Guatemala. As in many U.S. client states, the military 
used its power to carve OUt economic opportunities and to steal, directly 
or indirectly. 80 The terrorism, thievery, and autonomy of the Guatema- 
lan military reached a temporary peak-later surpassed by Rios 
Montt- during the reign of Lucas Garcia (1978-82). This overlapped 
the brief interlude of the Carter human-rights policy, during which 
there was open criticism of the Guatemalan government and a brief and 
partial cutoff of arms supply from the United States under congressio- 
nal pressure. Even during the Carter years, however, relations with 
Guatemala were not hostile-it was as if a child in the family were 
naughty and briefly put in the corner. Part ofthe reason for the willing- 
ness of the Carter government to provide no new arms supplies was that 
the bad boy was in no danger. In El Salvador in 1980, by contrast, where 
the Carter administration saw the possibility of a left-wing victory, 
support was quickly forthcoming to a right-wing terror regime. 

During the Reagan years, the number of civilians murdered in 
Guatemala ran into the tens of thousands, and disappearances and 
mutilated bodies were a daily occurrence. Studies by Amnesty Inter- 
national (AI), Americas Watch (AW), and other human-rights monitors 
have documented a military machine run amok, with the indiscriminate 
killing of peasants (including vast numbers of women and children), the 
forcible relocation of hundreds of thousands of farmers and villagers 
into virtual concentration camps, and the enlistment of many hundreds 
of thousands in compulsory civil patrols. Reagan, however, visiting 
Guatemala in December 1982, commented that head of state Rios 
Monn was "totally committed to democracy" and was receiving a "bum 
rap" on human-rights abuses. Two months earlier, AI released its re- 
port describing sixty different Indian villages in which massacres of 
civilians took place in a three-month period, with the total killed ex- 
ceeding .2,500.84 

The Reagan policy toward Guatemala was, as with South Africa, 
"constructive engagement. "8S From the beginning, the administration 
strove to embrace and provide arms to the military governments. Ongo- 
ing mass murder was merely an inconvenience. One method by which 
the administration sought to rehabilitate our relations with the 


Guatemala regimes was by continual lying about their human-rights 
record (with Reagan himself setting the standard). Stephen Bosworth, 
of the State Department, assured a House committee in July 1981 that 
the Lucas Garcia government was successfully attacking the guerrillas 
"while taking care to protect innocent bystanders. "86 The State Depart- 
ment's Country Report on Human Rights for 1981 also found it impossi- 
ble to determine who was doing all the killing in Guatemala, and 
disappearances were attributed to the "right" and the "left," but not 
to the government. Amnesty International, by contrast, in February 
1981, gave detailed evidence that the thousands of murders were almost 
entirely governmental in origin, including those of the death squads, 
whose victims were targeted in an annex of Guatemala's national palace 
under the direct supervision of President Lucas Garcia. S7 

With the overthrow of Lucas Garcia, suddenly, as if by magic, the 
Reagan administration line altered, and Stephen Bosworth "could not 
emphasize strongly enough the favorable contrast between the current 
human rights situation in Guatemala and the situation last December. 
. .." Melvyn Levitsky, deputy assistant secretary of state for human 
rights, told another congressional committee that "the United States 
cannot easily sustain a relationship with a government which engages 
in violence against its own people," as with the Lucas Garcia regime. 

When Lucas Garcia was in power, Bosworth found it a caring regime 
that protected the innocent, and the State Department couldn't deter- 
mine that the government was doing any killing. With Lucas Garcia 
ousted, the State Department discovered that he was an indiscriminate 
murderer and assumed a high moral tone about his behavior. That is, 
the State Department implicitly conceded that it was lying earlier and 
counted on the press not to point this out. Of course, the reason for the 
switch was to help make a favorable case for Lucas Garcia' s successor, 
Rios Montt. Under Rios Montt there was "a dramatic decline" in 
human-rights abuses, according to State Department spokesman John 
Hughes in January 1983. Rios Montt is the one whom Reagan found to 
be getting a bum rap. But as we noted. Amnesty International found 
Rios Montt to be another top-rank murderer, who appears to have 
exceeded his predecessor in civilian massacres. 

When RlOs Montt was ousted in his turn, once again the State 
Department line shifted. It was admitted that things had been terrible 
under Rios Montt in 1982, but now there was a dramatic improvement, 
and the government was showing "increased sensitivity to human rights 
questions."89 It is evident that we have here a consistent pattern that 
may be formulated into a quasi-law: in the case of a terrorist state with 
which the administration wants "constructive engagement," things are 


always OK and improving; but when that regime is ousted, its record 
deteriorates ex post facto and looks most unfavorable compared with 
the humanistic and sensitive one now in power! This droll pattern of 
identical apologetics for each successor terrorist, and ex post denigra- 
tion of the one ousted, is an Orwellian process that the Western press 
associates with totalitarian states, but it happens here. And it can only 
occur if the mass media are cooperative. They must be willing to 
downplay or ignore the large-scale murders going on in Guatemala in 
the first place. In that context, the serial apologetics, the lies defending 
each murderer, and the mind-boggling hypocrisy will hardly be news- 

Given the U.S. role in originating and sustaining the Guatemalan 

counterinsurgency state, and the fact that that state is dedicated to 
blocking the growth of popular organizations (i.e., "anti-Communist" 
in Orwellian rhetoric) and has a strong U.S. business presence, a propa- 
ganda model would anticipate a lack of media interest in its "unworthy" 
'victims and an evasion of the U.S. role in its evolution and practices. 
We would expect reports on Guatemala put out by Amnesty Interna- 
tional and other human-rights groups to be downplayed or ignored, 
despite their spectacular data and horrifying stories. This is a strong test 
of the model, as the number of civilians murdered between 1978 and 
1985 may have approached 100,000, with a style of killing reminiscent 
of Pol Pot. As AI pointed out in 1981: 

The bodies of the victims have been found piled up in ravines, 
dumped at roadsides or buried in mass graves. Thousands bore the 
scars of torture, and death had come to most by strangling with 
a garrotte, by being suffocated in rubber hoods or by being shot 
in the head.*" 

The expectations of a propaganda model are fully realized in this case. 
Referring to our table 2-1 comparison of media treatment of twenty- 
three religious victims in Guatemala with the coverage accorded Popie- 
luszko, only four of the twenty-three were ever mentioned by name in 
our media sample, and the twenty-three taken together had approxi- 
mately one-twentieth of the space in the New York Times that the 
newspaper of record gave to Popieluszko. In the case if the murder in 
Guatemala of the American priest Rev. Stanley Rothcr, the New York 
Times reported on August 5, 1981, in a tiny back-page article, that three 
men had been arrested for questioning in the shooting. What was the 
ourcome oithe arrests? Were the arrested persons tried? Readers of the 
Times will never know, and the Guatemalan government did not have 


to suffer the embarrassment and pressure of the press raising questions 
in this or any of the remaining twenty-two Guatemalan cases. 

Along with the minuscule attention to the murder of Guatemalan 
priests) the details of the killings were brief) and no sense of outrage 
was generated or sustained. The few lengthier articles never discuss 
the role of the 1954 coup and the long training and supply relationship 
of the United States to the Guatemalan police and anny;92 rather, they 
almost invariably put the killings in the format of a civil war with 
unexplained atrocities of extremists of the right and left (see "Arch- 
bishop Oscar Romero," p. 48). An AP dispatch in the New York Times 
of May 16, 1981, is entitled "Four Guatemalans Slain in Leftist-Rightist 
Rivalry," The article, which reports on the murder of one of our 
twenty-three priests, the Reverend Carlos Galvez Galindo, says: "The 
attacks appeared to be related to the long struggle for power between 
leftists and rightists." A UPI dispatch in the Times of July 29, 1981, 
reporting on the murder of Rev. Stanley Rother, also relates the attack 
to "right-wing extremists "-not the Guatemalan government. 

Time has Rother and his Guatemalan villagers "caught in the middle 

of an undeclared civil war "93 Time never explains the roots of the 

civil war, nor the crucial role of the United States in refusing to allow 
peaceful social change and installing the institutions of permanent 
counterrevolution. Tim£ does, in most unusual fashion, point out that 
the government was responsible for the "overwhelming majority" of the 
killings, and even more exceptionally, it cites Amnesty International's 
evidence that the paramilitary death squads are an ann of the govern- 
ment. But the article fails to give illustrations of the scope and quality 
of the murders, and retreats, as noted, to the civil-war rationale. Even 
more compromising is its framing of the U.S. pohcy debate. According 
to Time, "Yet Guatemala confronts the Reagan administration with one 
of its toughest foreign policy challenges: on one hand, the country is 
viewed as a victim of Cuban-sponsored insurgency, needing U.S. sup- 
port; on the other) the government obviously violates human rights." 
The dichotomy offered by Time is a bit uneven: the Cuban sponsorship 
is a Cold War ploy for which no evidence has ever been given, but it 
provides a convenient propaganda framework that is regularly deployed 
by the State Department to divert attention from its support of mass 
murderers. Tim£ thus elevates it to equality with a real and extremely 
serious charge-and without an honest citation even to apolitical hack. 
The "on the other hand" is, despite the "obviously)" a gross understate- 
ment. The Reagan administration chose to support and provide regular 
apologetics for a genocidal government that was using a policy of 
massacre to destroy a purely indigenous revolt. The "challenge" for the 



Reagan administration—quite different from that portrayed by Time- 
was how to sell the support of mass murder. Time did its little bit by 
unqualified transmission of the claim of a Cuban-based insurgency, 
which posed a serious dilemma for policy-making. 

The holocaust years 1978-85 yielded a steady stream of documents 
by human-rights groups that provided dramatic evidence of a state 
terrorism in Guatemala approaching genocidal levels. Many of these 
documents had a huge potential for educating and arousing the public, 
but as a propaganda model would anticipate, they were treated in our 
media sample in a manner that minimized their informational value and 
capacity to create and mobilize public indignation. Using a selection of 
ten important reports on Guatemala by Amnesty International and 
Americas Watch issued in the years 1981-87, we could only find mention 
of four of them in our media sample. '4 None of these four made it to 
the first page, and none provided the basis for an editorial or the 
building up of a press campaign of sustained coverage and indignation. 
The spectacular AI report of 1981 on "Disappearances": A Workbook, 
describing a frightening development of state terrorism in the Nazi 
mold, was entirely ignored in our media sample, as was AI's March 1985 

report on "Disappearances" under the Government of General Oscar 

Humberlo Mejia Vklores, which if pubJicized would have interfered 
with the media's portrayal of the Guatemalan elections of 1984-85 as 
exercises in legitimation (as described in the next chapter). AW's 1985 
report on the Mutual Support Group was ignored, as was the 1987 study 
of human rights in Guatemala during Cerezo's first year. We return to 
the Mutual Support Group in the next section. We will see in the next 
chapter, too, that the media reported Cerezo's election in a framework 
of hopefulness and optimism, despite prior electoral experience in 
Guatemala and Cerezo's own expressed doubts about his ability to rule; 
the ignoring of AW's retrospective describing the actual results of 
Cerezo's presidency reflects the media's general failure to follow up on 
the effects of client state elections (as we show in chapter 3 with regard 
to El Salvador). 

We described earlier the important Americas Watch study 
Guatemala Revised: H<ytQ the Reagan Administration Finds "Improve- 
ments" in Human Rights in Guatemala, whose most striking and impor- 
tant theme was the ex post facto admission by the State Department 
that its apologetics for the previous general had been false. This il- 
luminating document was ignored in our media sample, except for the 
New York Times, which gave it a three-inch article on page 7 under the 
benign title "Rights Group Faults U.S. on Guatemala Situation" (Sept. 
24,1985). The article describes the report as saying that the administra- 


tion has refused to acknowledge major human-rights abuses in 
Guatemala, but it fails to mention the stress on the ex post facto tacit 
admission of lying. Mentioning this would, of course, suggest that the 
Times's primary source for its "news" is thoroughly untrustworthy. The 
last paragraph of the article, which absorbs a quarter of the three inches 
devoted to this document, gives a State Department response to the AW 
report, which is that AW is "less a human rights organization than it 
is a political one." The brazen hypocrisy of this retort would have been 
clear and dramatic if the article had given the gist of AW's evidence that 
the administration was not merely an apologist for state terrorism in 
Guatemala, but was also demonstrably dishonest. 

In its concern to protect the Guatemalan generals in their terroristic 
assault on the population, the Reagan administration took umbrage at 
organizations Uke Amnesty International and Americas Watch and 
mounted a systematic campaign in I98I and 1982 to discredit them as 
left-wing and politically biased. In a letter dated September IS, 1982, 
directed to AI and the Washington Office on Latin America, Assistant 
Secretary of State Thomas Enders assailed the reporting of these or- 
ganizations as one-sided and apologetic for the "ferocious" and "ter- 
rorist attacks "-of the guerrillas. Enders writes that 

No one would deny the possibility [sic] of units of the military, 
in contravention of stated policy, having been involved in viola- 
tions of human rights. What is important is that since March 23 
the Government of Guatemala has committed itself to a new 
course and has made significant progress '* 

This amazing piece of apologetics for an army that was in the midst of 
slaughtering thousands of civilians was distributed within Guatemala as 
an official U.S. document, and its full text appeared in the Guatemalan 
press. AW states: 

We find this use of the letter unconscionable in light of the risks 
run by human rights investigators in a political climate like 
Guatemala's. It also appears to us to be further evidence that the 
State Department, like the Guatemalan government, admits no 
neutrals in the Guatemalan conflict; the bringer of bad news 
becomes, through this reasoning, part of the enemy, to be publicly 
discredited if possible, 

Americas Watch also indicated that the State Department's substantive 
criticisms of AW and AI were not merely incompetent but, more impor- 


tant, were based largely on the assumed truthfulness of Guatemalan 
army claims (a form of gullibility displayed clearly in the statement by 
Enders quoted above). 

As we discussed in chapter i, the government is a primary flak 
producer as well as information source. This Guatemala episode is an 
important illustration of the government's efforts to silence competing 
sources of information. It is interesting that the A'^w York Times never 
mentioned or crit.icized this sinister campaign, even though it was 
carried out in the context of a policy protecting mass murderers. We 
will see in the next chapter that Time magazine cooperated with the 
campaign, citing Americas Watch only once on Guatemala, but with the 
quahfying explanation that it is "a controversial group that is often 
accused of being too sympathetic to the left" (the State Department, 
on which Time relies very heavily, is never subject to any adjective 
suggesting any bias). The Washington Post (Dec. 4, 1982) had one 
back-page article by Terri Shaw, on the Enders letter, which features 
the State Department charges in the title-"Embassy Sees 'Disinfor- 
mation' on Guatemala: U.S. Report Says Rights Groups are Used"- 
and in the text. The author allows the embassy claim, that "the report 
never was meant to be made public" to stand unchallenged, and never 
refers to the threat posed to human-rights monitors by the release of 
such State Department charges. The human-rights groups are allowed 
to suggest a State Department intent to discredit, but the word "disin- 
formation" is never applied to State Department allegations, and no 
serious examination of the content of those charges is provided. This 
superficial piece exhausts the sample media's coverage of this State 
Department campaign. The AW report Human Rights in Guatemala: No 
N^lrah Allowed, which discusses this campaign and the Enders letter, 
was never mentioned. 


Human-rights monitoring and protective agencies have had a very 
difficult time organizing and surviving in the "death-squad democ- 
racies" of EI Salvador and Guatemala. Between October 1980 and 
March 1983, five officials of the Human Rights Commission ofEI Salva- 
dor were seized and murdered by the security forces. In accord with 


a propaganda model, these murders should have been of little interest 
to the U.S. mass media, and this expectation is borne out by evidence. 
As an illustrative comparison, the New York Times had a grand total of 
four back-page articles on these five murders,'* whereas, during the 
same period, the Times had thirty-five articles on the Soviet human- 
rights activist Natan Sharansky, not all of them on the back pages. The 
proportionality of attention fits well our general propaganda-model 
analysis of the media's treatment of worthy and unworthy victims. 

Guatemala has been even more inhospitable to human-rights organi- 
zations than El Salvador. Guatemalan Archbishop Monsignor Prospero 
Penados del Barrio asserted in 1984 that "It is impossible for a human 
rights office to exist in Guatemala at the present time. "97 "Disappear- 
ances" as an institutional form began in Guatemala in the mid-1960s 
and eventually reached levels unique in the Western Hemisphere, with 
the total estimated to be some 40,000.98 Protest groups that have 
formed to seek information and legal redress have been consistently 
driven out of business by state-organized murder. The Association of 
University Students (AEU) sought information on the disappeared 
through the courts in the course of a brief opening in 1966, but after 
one sensational expose ofthe police murder of twenty-eight leftists, the 
system closed down again. As McClintock points out, "In the next few 
years many AEU leaders and member law students were hunted down 
and killed."" In the 1970s, a Committee ofthe Relatives ofthe Disap- 
peared was organized by the AEU, with headquarters in San Carlos 
National University. As Americas Watch points out, "It disbanded after 
plainsclothesmen walked into the University's legal aid center on 
March lo, 1974, and shot and killed principal organizer, lawyer 
Edmundo Guerra Theilheimer, the center's director.'loo Another 
human-rights group, the National Commission for Human Rights, was 
created in the late 1970S by psychologist and journalist Irma Plaquer. 
Her son was murdered, and she herself "disappeared" on October 16, 

According to the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group, in 
1984 alone there were an average of one hundred political murders and 
over forty disappearances per month in Guatemala. These figures are 
almost surely an underestimate, as only the disappearances that took 
place in and around Guatemala City received any publicity. The greater 
number of murders and disappearances occur among rural and Indian 
families who do not have the resources to complain and are more 
exposed to retaliation. 

In this context of murder, fear, and the prior failure of all human- 
rights organizations, the Mutual Support Group, or GAM, was formed 



in June 1984. It was a product of the desperation felt by people seeking 
information on the whereabouts of disappeared relatives and willing to 
take serious risks to that end. Many of them had suffered enormous 
pain in frustrating searches and inquiries that never bore fruit. There 
is no legal redress in Guatemala, and nothing useful can be obtained 
by appeals to the police or courts of law. Mr. Hicho, looking for his 
disappeared daughter, saw some one hundred bodies in the months he 
spent at the morgue, and "seventy to seventy-five percent of them had 
been tortured. "102 Others took different painful routes in their search. 
In early 1985, one woman was told by an army officer that her husband 
was still aMve, and that he would see to his return if she slept with him. 
She did so, and her husband turned up dead shortly thereafter. 

The intention of the organizers of GAM was to seek strength by 
collective action, and to use it to gather data and seek redress by 
petition and publicity. Their hope for survival and success rested, in 
part, on the fact that the chief of state, Mejia Victores, was being built 
up by the Reagan administration as another "reformer," and the Rea- 
gan-Mejia Victores team was trying to establish the appropriate 
"image" to induce Congress to loosen the purse strings. GAM also had 
support within Guatemala from Archbishop Penados del Barrio and 
other church groups and lay persons, although few felt able to speak 
up in the system of unconstrained state terror. Internationally, GAM 
received significant political support from progressive and humanitar- 
ian political parties and human-rights groups. 

Thirty members of the newly organized GAM held a press confer- 
ence in Guatemala City in June 1984, denouncing the disappearances 
and calling on the government "to intervene immediately in order to 
find our loved ones." In the latter part of June, and again in early 
August, masses were held in the Metropolitan Cathedral to express 
concern over the fate of the disappeared, with the initial services held 
by the university rector, Meyer Maldonado, and Archbishop Penados. 
A thousand people attended the August mass. On August I, the group 
first met with General Mejia Victores, at which time he promised to 
investigate the disappearances. In ads placed in the major newspapers 
on August 8 and 9, GAM put his promises on the public record. Subse- 
quently the group began to call attention to the government's failure 
to follow through on the August i promises, and they moved gradually 
to other actions. In October 1984 they sponsored a march and mass for 
the disappeared at the cathedral-the first mass demonstration in 
Guatemala since May I, 1980 (at which time protestors were seized on 
the streets and an estimated one hundred were assassinated, or disap- 


The organization continued to grow, from the initial handful to 225 
famihes in November 1984 and then to 1,3°0 in the spring of 1986. Most 
of the members were women, a large majority peasant women from the 
countryside. They were persistent. After initial petitions, requests, 
meetings, and marches, they began to make explicit accusations and 
"publicly charge elements of the national security forces as directly 
responsible for the capture and subsequent disappearance of our family 
members."I04 They asked for an investigation, an accounting, and jus- 
tice. They appealed to the constituent assembly and began regular 
protests in downtown Guatemala City, banging pots and pans and, on 
occasion, peacefully occupying buildings. 

Nothing, of course, was done in response to the GAM demands. The 
assembly had no powers anyway, but was too fearful even to pass a 
resolution of support. The military rulers toyed with GAM. In public, 
with the press on hand, Mejia Victores would say, "I don't want to shirk 
responsibilities and something has to be done." But when the press was 
not there, he said, "It seems as though you are accusing me-and we 
don't have them [the disappeared]." "You have them," we said. "We 
don't have them," he replied. The military rulers were getting an- 
noyed, and phone threats, letters of warning, and open surveillance 
intensified. Two days after the exchange between Mejia Victores and 
GAM, the tortured bodies of two disappeared associated with GAM 
members showed up, one placed in front of his house with his eyes 
gouged out and his face barely recognizable. 

In a television interview on March 14, 1985, Mejia Victores said that 
GAM was "being used by subversion, because if they have problems, 
solutions are being found, and they have been given every advantage 
to [solve these problems]. "106 A spate of newspaper headlines followed, 
stressing government warnings and allegations that GAM was being 
manipulated by subversives. In mid-March, General Mejia Victores 
was asked on television what action the government would take against 
GAM. He replied, "You'll know it when you see it."''*' 

On March 30, 1985, GAM leader Hector G6mez Calito was seized, 
tortured, and murdered. (The six policemen who had come for him 
were themselves assassinated shortly after his death.) 108 He had been 
burned with a blowtorch, on the stomach and elsewhere, and beaten on 
the face so severely that his lips were swollen and his teeth were broken; 
his tongue had been cut out. Then, on April 4^ another leader of GAM, 
Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas, her twenty-one-year-old brother, and 
her two-year-old son were picked up, tortured, and murdered. Her 
breasts had bite marks and her underclothing was bloody; her two-year- 
old son had had his fingernails pulled out. 


On grounds of newsworthiness, the murders of the two GAM lead- 
ers, along with the brother and the child of one of them, would seem 
to deserve high-order attention. Their bravery was exceptional; the 
villainy they were opposing was extraordinary; the justice of their cause 
was unassailable; and the crimes they suffered were more savage than 
those undergone by Popieluszko. Most important of all, these were 
crimes for which we bear considerable responsibility, since they were 
perpetrated by clients who depend on our support, so that exposure and 
pressure could have a significant effect in safeguarding human rights. 
On the other hand, the Reagan administration was busily trying to enter 
into warmer and more supportive relations with the Guatemalan mili- 
tary regime and, as we described earlier, was going to great pains to put 
the regime in a favorable light. A propaganda model wouJd anticipate 
that even these dramatic and horrifying murders would be treated in 
alow-key manner and quickly dropped by the mass media-that, unlike 
Popieluszko, there would be no sustained interest, no indignation capa- 
ble of rousing the public (and disturbing the administration's plans). 
These expectations are fully vindicated by the record. 

Table 2-3 compares media coverage of the Popieluszko case with that 
of the murders of the GAM leaders. It is immediately obvious that the 
treatment is radically different in the two cases. The GAM murders 
couldn't even make "the news" at Time, Newiweek, or CBS News, The 
Neu} York Times never found these murders worthy of the front page 
or editorial comment, and we can see that the intensity of its coverage 
was slight. The first report of the quadruple murder was on April 7, 
1985, in a tiny item on page 5 of the paper in which it is mentioned that 
the body of Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas was found in her car in 
a ravine, along with the bodies of her brother and her young son. In 
neither this item nor any succeeding article does the Tim£s provide 
details on the condition of the bodies, or mention that the two-year-old 
child had his fingernails tom out.^^^ 

In other respects, too, the Times articles, all written by Stephen 
Kinzer, generally employ an apologetic framework. That is, they don't 
focus on the murders- who the victims were, the details of the vio- 
lence, who did it, why, and the institutional structures and roots of 
organized murder of which these are an obvious part. With Popie- 
luszko, these were the issues. Kinzer has little or nothing on the details 
of the GAM murders and very little on the victims and the experiences 
that brought them to GAM, and the question of who did it and what 
was being done (or not done) to bring the murderers to justice he hardly 
considers. Kinzer takes it for granted that the murders were committed 
by agents of the state, but he doesn't say this explicitly, or discuss the 

TABLE 2-3 

Mass -Media Coverage of Worthy and Unworthy Victims (2): 
A Murdered Polish Priest versus Two Murdered Officials 
of the Guatemalan Mutual Support Group 


No. 9b of 

row I 







No. % of No. % of No. % of 

row I row 1 row 1 


No. ft of 

row I 


No. ft of 

row I 


No. of No. of 
news eveaiag 
programs' news 

No. ft of No. ft of 

row I row I 








1. lerzy 

murdered on 
Oct. 19, 1984 

2. Hector Orlando 

G6mez and Maria 
Rosario Qodoy de 
Cuevas, murdered 
between Mar. 30 
and Apr. 6, 1985 
(along with a child, 
who was tortured) 

78 (100) 1183.0 (100) 10 (100) 

5 (6.4) 80.0 (6.8) 


16 (tOO) 313.0 (100) 46 (100) 23 (100) 

rilti media t.ovC-t Afi« is for "O I8-m.t>nth period from 'he tifllc of the firw rc-.porr nf 'he victirn's disappc f»raoco Of rrturdcr. 


background, or provide a framework for evaluating the case. He looks 
"objectively" at the scene, quoting some of the GAM survivors in brief 
and rhetorical statements that are offset by quotes from the generals: 
they approved the formation of GAM (an ambiguous half-truth); they 
appointed an investigating committee that "found no evidence of secret 
detention centers in Guatemala" (no mention of the composition of the 
committee, no counter-evidence, and no mention of issues they may 
have overlooked-like disappeared who are murdered); and they deny 
any responsibility for the murder of Godoy, her brother, and her son, 
who they claim to have been victims of an auto accident. If Kinzer had 
given the details of the victims' injuries, this lie would have been 
exposed as such, and further questions would have suggested them- 

In article after article, Kinzer repeats that the Mejia Victores gov- 
ernment has pledged to return to civihan rule shortly, which helps 
deflect attention from the ongoing killing and its causes, and from the 
GAM murders under discussion; he also does not tell us just what 
"civilian rule" would mean in a terrorist state in which, as he knows, 
the effective rulers would be the same military forces. Ho in the Popie- 
luszko case, once it was established that the police had committed the 
murder, the media spent a great deal of space discussing the police 
apparatus and police methods, as well as attending to the responsibility 
of the people at higher levels for the murder. Kinzer doesn't discuss 
these questions at all. The structure of the Guatemalan murder ma- 
chine and how it works would make a good Story, and numerous details 
of its operations were available, but this did not fit the government 
agenda and the Times format. Similarly, the role of Mejia Victores in 
the murder of the GAM leaders-recall his warnings just prior to the 
murders, and consider his virtually unlimited discretionary power to 
murder or protect the citizenry-is ignored. But once again, the links 
to the top in the case of unworthy victims do not fit the propaganda 
format. Kinzer does a nice job of making the GAM murders seem to 
be part of the natural background-regrettable but inevitable, part of 
the complex inheritance of a troubled country, and possibly, it is hoped, 
to be rectified when the new civilian government takes power. 

In an attempt to gain support abroad, two of the remaining leaders 
of GAM, Nineth de Garcia and Herlindo Hideo de Aquino, traveled 
to Europe in March and April 1986, after the inauguration of the elected 
civilian president, Christian Democrat Vinicio Cerezo. One of their 
most important messages was that killings and disappearances had not 
abated at aU during the first three months ofCerezo's presidency, and 
that the death squads had actually reappeared and were active in 


Guatemala City. Because of H health, Nineth de Garcia canceled her 
visits in Washington, D.C., and flew directly from Europe to Chicago, 
where she was scheduled to receive the key to the city from Mayor 
Harold Washington. As she went through customs in ChicagOj how- 
ever, the officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service 
searched, interrogated, and harassed her for two hours, one of the 
customs officials calling her a subversive and a Communist. They also 
seized literature she carried and threatened to deport her, despite her 
intended brief stopover and valid visa. This intimidation had its effect, 
and Nineth de Garcia flew directly to Guatemala. A friend attended the 
banquet in her place to accept the key presented by Mayor Washington. 

This incident is revealing. It is unlikely that Sharansky or Walesa 
would be so treated by the INS, but if by some chance they were, the 
press outcry would be great. 1 1 1 When a press conference was held in 
Chicago by supporters of GAM to protest this outrage, the major media 
did not attend, and neither the press releases nor the follow-up lener 
from a congressional group signed by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan 
could break the silence. The convergence between Reagan administra- 
tion policy toward Guatemala and media priorities was complete. (Ac- 
cording to two organizers of the Chicago press conference, full 
information on this event was given Steve Greenhouse, the Neti? York 
Times's reporter in Chicago, but not a word about this incident ap- 
peared in the newspaper of record.) 

A press release by the Guatemalan army on September 17, 1986, 
accused GAM of conducting 

... a black campaign of falsehood . . . insults and insolence 
directed at the military institution that exceed [the boundaries] of 
liberty and tolerance for free speech. The army cannot permit the 
insidiousness and truculence of GAM's maneuvers that at- 
tempt to compromise the democratic international image of 

Although very similar threats preceded the murder of two leaders of 
GAM in March and April of 1984, the U.S. mass media entirely ignored 
this new information-despite strenuous efforts by GAM, the 
Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, and their allies to elicit pub- 
licity. As in the past, the unworthiness of these victims remains an 
essential ingredient in the Guatemalan army's continued freedom to 


Legitimizing versus 
Meaningless Third World 

Xhird world elections provide an excellent testing 
ground for a propaganda model. Some elections are held in friendly 
client states to legitimize their rulers and regimes, whereas others are 
held in disfavored or enemy countries to legitimize their political sys- 
tems. This natural dichotomization is strengthened by the fact that 
elections in the friendly client states are often held under U.S. sponsor- 
ship and with extensive U.S. management and public-relations support. 
Thus, in the Dominican Republic in 1966, and periodically thereafter, 
the United States organized what have been called "demonstration 
elections" in its client states, defined as those whose primary function 
is to convince the home population that the intervention is well inten- 
tioned, that the populace of the invaded and occupied country wel- 
comes the intrusion, and that they are being given a democratic choice. ' 

The elections in EI Salvador in 1982 and 1984 were true demonstra- 
tion elections, and those held in Guatemala in 1984-85 were strongly 
supported by the United States for image-enhancing purposes. The 

EI Salvador 




election held in Nicaragua in 1984, by contrast, was intended to legiti- 
mize a government that the Reagan administration was striving to 
destabilize and overthrow. The U.S. government therefore went to 
great pains to cast the Nicaraguan election in an unfavorable light. 

A propaganda model would anticipate mass-media support of the 
state perspective and agenda. That is, the favored elections will be 
found to legitimize, no matter what the facts; the disfavored election 
win be found deficient, farcical, and failing to legitimize-again, irre- 
spective of facts. What makes this another strong test of a propaganda 
model is that the Salvadoran and Guatemalan elections of 1982 and 
1984-85 were held under conditions of severe, ongoing state terror 
against the civilian population, whereas in Nicaragua this was not the 
case. To find the former elections legitimizing and the Nicaraguan 
election a farce, the media would have had to use different standards 
of evaluation in the two sets of cases, and, more specifically) it would 
have been necessary for them to avoid discussing state terror and other 
basic electoral conditions in the Salvadoran and Guatemalan elections. 
As we wiU see, the media fulfilled these requirements and met the needs 
of the state to a remarkable degree. 

In order to demonstrate the applicability of a propaganda model in 
these cases, we will first describe the eJecrjon-propaganda framework 
that the U.S. government tried to foist on the media; we will then 
review the basic electoral conditions under which elections were held 
in the three countries; and finally, we will examine how the U.S. mass 
media treated each of the three elections. 


The U.S. government has employed a number of devices in its spon- 
sored elections to put them in a favorable light_ It has also had an 
identifiable agenda of issues that it wants stressed, as well as others it 
wants ignored or downplayed. Central to demonstration-election man- 
agement has been the manipulation of symbols and agenda to give the 
favored election a positive image. The sponsor government tries to 
associate the election with the happy word "democracy" and the mih- 
tary regime it backs with support of the elections (and hence democ- 
racy). It emphasizes what a wonderful thing it is to be able to hold any 
election at all under conditions of internal conflict, and it makes it 


appear a moral triumph that the army has agreed to support the election 
(albeit reluctantly) and abide by its results. 

The refusal of the rebel opposition to participate in the election is 
portrayed as a rejection of democracy and proof of its antidemocratic 
tendencies, although the very plan of the election involves the rebels' 
exclusion from the ballot.^ The sponsor government also seizes upon 
any rebel statements urging nonparticipation or threatening to disrupt 
the election. These are used to transform the election into a dramatic 
struggle between, on the one side, the "born-again" democratic army 
and people struggling to vote for "peace," and, on the other, the rebels 
opposing democracy, peace, and the right to vote. Thus the dramatic 
denouement of the election is voter lurnoui, which measures the ability 
of the forces of democracy and peace (the army) to overcome rebel 

Official observers are dispatched to the election scene to assure its 
public-relations success. Nominally, their role is to see that the election 
is "fair." Their real function, however, is to provide the appearance of 
fairness by focusing on the government's agenda and by channeling 
press attention to a reliable source. ^ They testify to fairness on the basis 
of long lines, smiling faces, no beatings in their presence, and the 
assurances and enthusiasm of U.S. and client-state officials."* But these 
superficialities are entirely consistent with a staged fraud. Fairness 
depends on fundamental conditions established in advance, which are 
virtually impossible to ascertain under the brief, guided-tour conditions 
of official observers. Furthermore, official observers in sponsored elec- 
tions rarely ask the relevant questions. ^ They are able to perform their 
public-relations function because the government chooses observers 
who are reliable supporters of its aims and publicizes their role, and the 
press gives them respectful anention.^ 

"Off the agenda" for the government in its own sponsored elections 
are all of the basic parameters that make an election meaningful or 
meaningless prior to the election-day proceedings. These include: (I) 
freedom of speech and assembly; (2) freedom of the press; (3) freedom 
to organize and maintain intermediate economic, social, and political 
groups (unions, peasant organizations, political clubs, student and 
teacher associations, etc.); (4) freedom to form political parties, orga- 
nize members, put forward candidates, and campaign without fear of 
extreme violence; and (5) the absence of state terror and a climate of 
fear among the public. Also off the agenda is the election-day "coercion 
package" that may explain turnout in terms other than devotion to the 
army and its plans, including any legal requirement to vote, and explicit 
or implicit threats for not voting. Other issues that must be downplayed 


in conforming to the government propaganda format are the U.S. gov- 
ernment's role in organizing and funding the election, the internal 
propaganda campaign waged to get out the vote, outright fraud, and the 
constraints on and threats to journalists covering the election. 

Another jssue off the government agenda js the purpose of the elec- 
tion. If its role is to influence the home population, spelling this out 
might arouse suspicions concerning its authenticity. In the case of the 
Vietnam election of 1967 and the EI Salvador elections of 1982 and 1984, 
the purpose of the elections was not merely to placate the home public 
but also to mislead them on the ends sought. In both instances it was 
intimated that an election would contribute to a peaceable resolution 
to the conflict, whereas the intent was to clear the ground for intensified 
warfare. Nobody who proposed a peace option could appear as a seri- 
ous candidate in Vietnam in 1967,' and as we describe below, there was 
no peace candidate at aU in El Salvador in either 1982 or 1984, although 
the polls and reporters kept saying that peace was the primary concern 
of the electorate. This highlights both the fraudulence of these elections 
and the urgency that the intentions of the sponsor be kept under wraps. 

In elections held in disfavored or enemy states, the U.S. government 
agenda is turned upside down. Elections are no longer equated with 
democracy, and U.S. officials no longer marvel at the election being 
held under adverse conditions. They do not commend the army for 
supporting the election and agreeing to abide by the results. On the 
contrary, the leverage the dominant party obtains by control of and 
support by the army is put forward in this case as compromising the 
integrity of the election. Rebel disruption is no longer proof that the 
opposition rejects democracy, and turnout is no longer the dramatic 
denouement of the struggle between a democratic army and its rebel 
opposition. Now the stress is on the hidden motives of the sponsors of 
the election, who are trying to legitimize themselves by this tricky 
device of a so-called election. 

Most important, the agenda of factors relevant to appraising an 
election is altered. From the stress on the superficial-long lines and 
smiling faces of voters, the simple mechanics of election-day balloting, 
and the personalities of the candidates-attention is now shifted to the 
basic parameters that were off the agenda in the sponsored election. As 
noted by Secretary of State Shultz, "The important thing is that if there 
is to be an electoral process, it be observed not only at the moment when 
people vote, but in all the preliminary aspects that make an election 
meaningful. " Spelling this out further, Shultz mentioned explicitly that 
for elections to be meaningful, "rival political groups" must be allowed 
"to form themselves and have access to people, to have the right of 


assembly, to have access to the media."8 These remarks were made 
apropos of the 1984 Nicaraguan election. No congresspersons or media 
commentators raised any question about whether these criteria should 
perhaps be applied to the Salvadoran or Guatemalan ejections sched- 
uled during the same year. 

In brief, the government used a well-nigh perfect system of Orwel- 
Uan doublethink: forgetting a criterion "that has become inconvenient, 
and then, when it becomes necessary again, . _. draw[ing] it back from 
oblivion for just so long as it is needed. "9 It even acknowledges this fact: 
a senior U.S. official told members of the Latin American Studies 
Association (LASA) observing the Nicaraguan election: 

The United States is not obliged to apply the same standard of 
judgment to a country whose government is avowedly hostile to 
the U.S. as for a country Uke El Salvador, where it is not. These 
people [the Sandinistas] could bring about a situation in Central 
America which could pose a threat to U.S. security. That allows 
us to change our yardstick, to 

But while a government may employ a blatant double standard, media 
which adhere to minimal standards of objectivity and are not them- 
selves part of a propaganda system would apply a single standard. Did 
the mass media of the United States follow a single standard in dealing 
with the elections in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, or did 
they follow their government's agenda in order to put the Salvadoran 
and Guatemalan elections in a favorable light and to denigrate the one 
held in Nicaragua? 



All three of these countries, in which elections were held in the years 
1982-85, were in the midst of serious conflict: Nicaragua was being 
subjected to regular border incursions by the U.S. -organized and sup- 
plied contras. £1 Salvador was in the midst of a combination civil 
conflict and externally (U.S.) organized and funded counterinsurgency 
war. Guatemala, as we noted earlier, had evolved into a counterinsur- 


gency state, with permanent warfare to keep the majority of Indians and 
other peasants in their place, and violent repression was structured into 
the heart of the political system. 

Despite the common feature of ongoing conflict, however, electoral 
conditions were far more favorable in Nicaragua than in El Salvador 
and Guatemala, for several reasons. First, and crucially important, in 
the latter countries, at the time of the elections the army was still 
engaged in mass slaughter ofthe civilian population, with the toll in the 
tens of thousands in each country and the killing often carried out with 
extreme sadism. Nothing remotely similar was true in Nicaragua. These 
facts, which are not controversial among people with a minimal concern 
for reality, immediately establish a fundamental distinction with regard 
to the electoral climate. In countries that are being subject to the terror 
of a rampaging murder machine, supported or run by a foreign power, 
electoral conditions are fatally compromised in advance, a point that 
the media would recognize at once if we were considering the sphere 
of influence of some official enemy. 11 

A further-and related-distinction was that the ruling Sandinista 
government was a popular government, which strove to serve majority 
needs and could therefore afford to allow greater freedom of speech and 
organization. The LASA report on the Nicaraguan election notes that 
their program "implies redistribution of access to wealth and public 
services. The state will use its power to guarantee fulfillment of the 
basic needs of the majority population." The "logic of the majority," 
the report continues, also imphes the involvement of "very large num- 
bers of people in the decisions that affect their lives." 12 Qualified ob- 
servers conclude that the Nicaraguan government pursued this logic, 
although this fact is excluded from the free press. After citing the 

World Bank's observation that "Governments vary greatly in the 

commitment of their political leadership to improving the condition of 
the people and encouraging their active participation in the develop- 
ment process," Dianna Melrose, ofthe charitable development agency 
Oxfam, states that "From Oxfam's experience of working in seventy-six 
developing countries, Nicaragua was to prove exceptional in the 
strength of that Government commitment." 13 The Salvadoran and 
Guatemalan governments, by contrast, were ruled by elites that had 
been struggling desperately for decades to avoid the very kinds of 
reforms the Sandinistas were implementing. Extreme repression was 
the longstanding method of control ofthe majority in EI Salvador and 
Guatemala, with vigorous and unceasing U.S. support. The aim of this 
repression was to keep the populace apathetic and to destroy popular 
organizations that might lay the basis for meaningful democracy. The 


Sandinistas were engaged in mobilizing the majority and involving them 
in political life, which they could afford to do because their programs 
were intended to serve the general population. 

A third factor affecting electoral conditions was that in El Salvador 
and Guatemala the conflict was internal, and violence against the ma- 
jority was integral to the struggle. In Nicaragua, the conflict was one 
involving an externally sponsored aggression that had very limited 
internal support. The Sandinistas could appeal to nationalist senti- 
ments, easily mobilized against Yankee-organized terrorism. The Sal- 
vadoran and Guatemalan governments could hardly do the same-the 
Salvadoran government especially had to contend with a negative na- 
tionalist reaction to obvious foreign (i.e., U.S.) domination and manipu- 
lation of its affairs, a fact that reached the level of absurdity when 
Duarte, visiting Washington in the fall of 1987, made himself an object 
of ridicule throughout Latin America by promptly kissing the American 
flag. While the Sandinistas did increasingly crack down on internal 
supporters of the contras as the conflict intensified, by the standards the 
United States usually applies to this region dissenters were dealt with 
remarkably benignly in Nicaragua. In El Salvador and Guatemala, the 
ruling elites could not afford such toleration, and repression by large- 
scale terror had long been institutionalized in these states. 

A fourth factor making for a more benign electoral environment in 
Nicaragua, paradoxically, was U.S. hostility and the power of its propa- 
ganda machine. Every arrest or act of harassment in Nicaragua was 
publicized and transformed into evidence of the sinister quality of the 
Sandinista government in the free press of the United States. Mean- 
while, as we described in chapter 2, the Guatemalan and Salvadoran 
regimes could indulge in torture, rape, mutilation, and murder on a 
daily and massive basis without invoking remotely proportional atten- 
tion, indignation, or inferences about the quality of these regimes. In 
the context, the Nicaraguan government was under intense pressure to 
toe the mark, whereas the U.S. satellites were free to murder at will 
without serious political cost. 

Let us examine briefly how El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua 
compared in the individual categories of conditions of a free election, 
before we turn to the media treatment of these issues. 

3.2.1. Free speech and assembly. 

In El Salvador, the right to free speech and free assembly was legally 
suspended under a state-of-siege order of March 7, 1980. Decree No. 


507 of December 3, 1980, essentially destroyed the judicial system, 
permitting the armed forces to hold citizens without charge or evidence 
for 180 days. Under these rulings, in the thirty months before the March 
1981 election, and prior to the 1984 elections, many thousands of civil- 
ians were seized, imprisoned, tortured, raped, and murdered outside of 
legal processes for alleged "subversive" actions and thoughts. The state 
of siege was lifted in early 1982 solely for the six parties contesting the 
election, and it was lifted entirely ten days before the election for all 
Salvadorans-although, unfortunately, the citizenry was not informed 
of this fact until after the election was over and state-of-siege condi- 
tions were reimposed." The practice of exposing mutilated bodies for 
the edification of the citizenry became institutionalized in the early 
1980s in EI Salvador. We described in chapter 2 the difficulty the U.S. 
government had in getting underlings jailed, tried, and convicted for 
the murder of four American citizens, even under intense U.S. pressure. 
The people ofEl Salvador had no protection whatsoever from the state 
terrorists, apart from that afforded by the guerrilla army in the regions 
under their control. The threat of extreme violence by the state against 
dissident speech was acute in El Salvador in 1982 and 1984, and was 
incompatible with a free election. 

In Guatemala, similarly, during 1984 and 1985, and for many years 
before, the actions of the armed forces against alleged subversives was 
entirely outside the rule of law. Thousands were seized, tortured, and 
killed without warrant and without any individual right to hearing or 
trial. As in EI Salvador, mutilation and exposure of the tortured bodies 
became conmionplace in the late 1970s and the 1980s. 16 The courts were 
dominated by the military, as the latter would simply not execute or 
obey a court order of which they disapproved, and the jUdges were not 
inclined to challenge the military for reasons of dependency or fear. 
Even Viscount Colville of Culross, the special rapporteur of the UN 
General Assembly who has been a notorious apologist for the Guatema- 
lan regime, after pointing out that over eighty members of the judiciary, 
court staff, and legal profession had been murdered in the early 19SOS 
and that many others were threatened, says that "Such events make 
their mark and cannot quickly be mitigated." 17 Two illustrations of the 
lack of court autonomy may be noted here: in May 1983, Ricardo 
Sagastume Vidaure, then president of the supreme COUrt, was simply 
removed by military order for attempting to bring military personnel 
under the jurisdiction of the legal system, is On July 19, 1984, Colonel 
Djalmi Dominguez, head of public relations for the army, told the 
newspaper Prensa Libre that the army wouldn't tolerate its members 
being taken to court on any charges." 


In the early 19SOS, following the mass killings and village destruction 
of 1980-83, vast numbers of peasants were resettled in "model villages" 
and other places under army control, and over 800,000 males were 
made obligatory members of civil patrols with military functions under 
close army surveillance. According to the British parliamentary group 
that visited Guatemala in 1984, "The civihan patrol system is imple- 
mented by terror, and designed also to sow terror People who do 

anything out of the ordinary come under immediate suspicion and are 
taken by the patrols to the army's desracamienro. Interrogation will be 
done by the army, but the killing of murdered suspects [is] often by the 
civilian patrols."2Q Bishops Taylor and O'Brien, representing the 
Roman Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Scotland and England-Wales 
respectively, reponed after their visit to Guatemala in 1984 that 

The civilian population is under almost total control by a heavy 
army and police presence throughout the country, which we were 
able to observe. There is also a nationwide network of civil defense 
patrols, military commissioners and informers, and «model vil- 
lages" serving in some cases as internment camps for the Indian 
population from the areas of conflict. Much of Guatemala resem- 
bles a country under military occupation. One of our informants 
summed up the situation by saying that the military had estab- 
lished a system of "structural control."21 

The InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, following an on- 
site visit in May 1985, also found that freedom of speech and assembly 
did not exist in Guatemala: 

The right of assembly and freedom of association, considered in 
Articles 15 and 16 of the American Convention, are also restricted 
and curtailed, because existing security measures in the Develop- 
ment Poles and the strict supervision of the Civil Defense Patrols 
inhibit residents from taking part in any social, ideological, cultu- 
ral or other assemblies or associations. All such meetings, when 
they do occur, are subject to surveillance, supervision and control 
by the authorities, so they do not enjoy the freedom implied by 
such rights. 22 

Public demonstrations were permissible in Guatemala during the 
1984-85 elections, with three days' advance notice and approval of the 
military authorities. In the Guatemalan context, however, this grant of 
rights was not meaningful. The delegation of the International Human 


Rights Law Group and the Washington Office on Latin America noted 
that whatever the election guarantees, 

the military and civil defense patrols and the climate of fear also 
made it difficult for many Guatemalans to organize and assemble. 
One local observer said that years of terror and oppression against 
local organizations had demobilized the whole rural population: 
"Four cue [peasant league] members were killed in this village 
alone. Now it would be very difficult to organize any kind of 
group." Civil patrols, police and army checkpoints on highways, 
and the need for travel permits for residents of the model villages 
impeded free movement. In the rural areas the civil patrols dis- 
couraged gatherings because people feared being reported. 

It was noted by many observers of the Guatemalan elections that 
although the big issues in that country were land distribution and 
reform and human rights, no political candidates discussed or ad- 
vocated either land reform, or restructuring the military and forcing an 
accounting of tens of thousands of "disappearances." One Christian 
Democratic adviser explained to the law group that "We Christian 
Democrats haven't raised such issues because this isn't the moment to 
start a confrontation with either the army or the private sector. "24 

In short, despite the "momentary improvement in the conditions of 
free speech" that occurred during the election campaign, Guatemala 
did not meet the first condition of a free election. The rural masses were 
under army discipline and traumatized by mass killings and the absence 
of any vestige of rule of law, and the candidates were unable to raise 
openly the fundamental issues of the society. 

Free speech and rights of assembly were constrained in Nicaragua 
in 1984 by social pressures and threats and by a state of siege that had 
been terminated some six months prior to the November 1984 election. 
Very important differences existed, however, between the Nicaraguan 
constraints and those prevailing in El Salvador and Guatemala. Most 
important, in Nicaragua the army and police did not regularly seize 
alleged subversives, and torture and murder them. Mutilated bodies 
have not been put on public display as a part of the system of public 
education. What the law group called the "constant, overt political 
terror" in Guatemala, based on "numerous documented massacres of 
whole villages," and what the former Salvadoran official Leonel Gomez 
called the state of "fearful passivity" prevalent in EI Salvador, did not 
apply to Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, in 1984, dissidents were able to speak 


freely without fear of murder, and the LASA group noted that "Every 
member of our delegation was approached at least once by an irate 
citizen as we walked around Managua and other cities. Several of these 
encounters turned into heated arguments between the individual who 

had approached us and passers-by who joined the discussion These 

people did not feel intimidated. "25 

Freedom of assembly in Nicaragua was somewhat limited by harass- 
ment, but, once again, it was not ruled out by state terror, as was the 
case in EI Salvador and Guatemala. The LASA delegation examined 
in detail the charges of Sandinista harassment of opposition-group 
meetings and found them largely unfounded, concluding that the con- 
testing parties "were able to hold the vast majority of their rallies 
unimpeded by pro-FSLN demonstrations. . . ."26 

Our conclusion is that the first basic condition of a free election was- 
partially met i n Nicaragua, but was not met at all in El Salvador and 

3.2.2. Freedom of the press. 

In £1 Salvador, the only substantial newspapers critical of the govern- 
ment. La Cronica del Pueblo and El Independiente-neither by any 
means radical papers-were closed in July 1980 and January 1981, re- 
spectively, the firSt because its top editor and two employees were 
murdered and mutilated by the security forces, the second because the 
army arrested its personnel and destroyed its plant. The church paper 
and radio station were repeatedly shut down by bombing attacks, No 
paper or station representing the principal opposition has been able to 
operate except clandestinely. Over thirty journalists have been mur- 
dered in £1 Salvador since the revolutionary junta took power, An 
intensified campaign against the press occurred just prior to the 1982 
election. On March 10, a death list of thirty-five journalists was cir- 
culated by a "death squad," and on March 18 the mutilated bodies of 
four Dutch journalists were recovered, None of the murders of jour- 
nalists in El Salvador was ever "solved" -they were essentially murders 
carried out under the auspices of the state. 

In Guatemala, forty-eight journalists were murdered between 1978 
and 1985/^ and many others have been kidnapped and threatened. 
These -killings, kidnappings, and threats have been a primary means of 
control of the media. As in EI Salvador, nobody has yet been ap- 
prehended and tried for any of these crimes, which must be viewed as 



murders carried out by the state or with state approval. There are no 
papers or radio or television stations in Guatemala that express the 
views of the rebels or the majority Indian population or the lower 
classes in general. "At most, the variants reflect shades of strictly con- 
servative thinldng."29 Given the extreme climate of fear, and threats for 
stepping out of line, even the conservative press is cautious and engages 
in continuous self-censorship. All the central topics that should be 
debated in this terrorized society are carefully avoided, 

In Nicaragua, once again, there have been no reported deaths of 
journalists by state terrorists, nor even threats of personal violence. In 
1984, the majority of the fifty-odd radio stations were privately owned, 
and some of them provided their own news programs; four other inde- 
pendent producers supplied radio news programs without prior censor- 
ship. Foreign radio and television from commercial and U.S. 
propaganda sources broadcasting from Costa Rica, Honduras, and else- 
where were of growing importance in 1984,^' Two of the three newspa- 
pers were privately owned, one supportive of the government but 
critical of specific programs and actions, the other violently hostile. The 
latter. La Prensa, which represented the small, ultraconservative mi- 
nority and supported the contras and a foreign-sponsored invasion of 
the country, was allowed to operate throughout the 1984 election, al- 
though it was censored. The censorship still allowed the paper to 
publish manifestos of opposition groups and a pastoral letter critical of 
the regime. No comparable paper has been allowed to exist above- 
ground, even briefly, in El Salvador and Guatemala. 

There is no doubt that the media in Nicaragua have been under 
government constraint, with censorship and periodic emergency con- 
trols that seriously encroached on freedom of the press. It should be 
noted, however, that Nicaragua is under foreign attack and in a state 
of serious warfare. John S. Nichols points out that under the U.S. 
Espionage Act of 1917, over one hundred publications were banned 
from the mails, and hundreds of people were jailed for allegedly inter- 
fering with military recruitment. Furthermore, 

Given that the United States was a relatively mature and homoge- 
nous political system during World War I and was not particularly 
threatened by the fighting, the range of public discussion tolerated 
in Nicaragua during the first five years of the revolution was 
remarkable. Despite assertions by President Reagan, lAPA, and 
others that the control of the Nicaraguan media was virtually 
totalitarian, the diversity of ownership and opinion was unusual 
for a Third World country, particularly one at war.33 


Our conclusion is that the condition of freedom of the press necessary 
for a free election was clearly absent in El Salvador and Guatemala, and 
that it was partially met in Nicaragua. 

3.2.3. Freedom of organization of 
intermediate groups. 

Perhaps the most important fact about EI Salvador in the two years 
prior to the election of March 1982 was the decimation of popular and 
private organizations that could pose any kind of challenge to the army 
and oligarchy. As we noted in chapter 2, this was the main thrust of 
policy of the revolutionary junta from late 1979 onward, and thousands 
of leaders were murdered and numerous organizations were destroyed 
or driven underground. The teachers' union was decimated by several 
hundred murders; the university was occupied, looted, and closed down 
by the army; organized student and professional groups were destroyed 
by arrests and killings, and even the peasant union sponsored by the 
AFL-CIO (i.e., supporters of the regime) had some one hundred of its 
organizers and leaders murdered between October 1979 and the elec- 
tion of March ip82.** 

In Guatemala, too, intermediate organizations such as peasant and 
trade unions, teacher and student groups, and professional organiza- 
tions have been regularly attacked by the armed forces since 1954. The 
process of demobilization of institutions threatening the dominant 
elites culminated in the early 1980s, when by government proclamation 
"illicit association" was made punishable by law. AU groups "which 
follow, or are subordinated to, any totalitarian system of ideology" 
(evidently an exception is made of the Guatemalan armed forces and 
the national-security ideology) are illicit. Only the armed forces deter- 
mine when illicitness occurs. If General Mejia Victores finds the GAM 
mothers to be agents of subversion, they may be killed (see chapter 2). 
Unions, peasant groups, student and professional organizations have 
grown up periodically in Guatemala, only to be crushed by systematic 
murder as soon as their demands were pressed with any vigor. The 
1984-85 elections followed the greatest era of mass murder in modern 
Guatemalan history-under the regimes of Lucas Garcia, Rios Montt, 
and Mejia Victores. Union membership in 1985 was below its 1950 level, 
and other urban groups were decimated or inactive; the peasant major- 
ity was totally demobilized and under the tight control and surveillance 
of the military. 



In Nicaragua, again the contrast with the two U.S. clients is marked. 
Under Sandinista management there was a spurt in union and peasant 
organization. A deliberate attempt was made to mobilize the population 
to participate in decision-making at the local level and to interact with 
higher-level leaders. Oxfam compliments the Nicaraguan government 
highly for this etfort, as we pointed out earlier. 

There is legitimate debate over the extent to which the grass-roots 
and other organizations sponsored by the ruling FSLN are indepen- 
dent, and whether they might not be a vehicle for both state propaganda 
and coercion. Oxfam America and its parent organization in London 
clearly find them constructive. Luis Hector Serra contends that the 
grass-roots organizations are relatively autonomous, and that their 
close relationship to the leadership of the FSLN "did not obstruct their 
capacity to express the concerns of their members at the local level."" 
He concludes that the popular organizations were "profoundly demo- 
cratic" in their effects of involving the populace in decision-making and 
educating them on the possibilities of participation in public life.'^^ The 
difference with the organization of the Guatemalan peasantry in "poles 
of development," where the essence of the organization was, quite 
openly, military control by terror and enforced nonparticipation, is 
quite dramatic, whatever one's general assessment of the FSLN popu- 
lar organizations may be. 

We conclude that on the third basic condition for a free election. El 
Salvador and Guatemala did not qualify in the years 1984-85; Nicara- 
gua did, at least to a significant degree. 

3.. 2.4. Freedom to organize parties, 
field candidates, and campaign for 

o f f i c e 

No party of the left could organize and present candidates in the 1982 
and 1984 elections in El Salvador. The Democratic Front (FDR) had 
been quickly driven underground. Five of its top leaders were seized 
in EI Salvador in November 1980 by official and paramilitary forces, and 
were tortured, mutilated, and killed. A year before the March 1982 
election, the army published a list of 138 "traitors," which included 
virtually all politicians of the left and left-center. Colonel Gutierrez, a 
powerful member of the junta, had stated forcefully that the FDR could 
not participate in the election because it was a "front" for the guerrillas. 
The invitation to the FDR and the FMLN to lay down their arms and 


compete in the election was thus fraudulent, a fact confirmed by the 
admission of the U.S. embassy that the FDR could not safely campaign 
in El Salvador, with the accompanying suggestion that they might do 
so by means of videotapes sent in from outside the country's borderspS 
Subsequently, even Duarte, the preferred candidate of the United 
States, was unable to campaign outside San Salvador in 1982 for fear 
of murder, and scores of Christian Democratic politicans were killed 
in the years 1980-84.39 In short, not only radical but even pro-U.S., 
mildly reformist parties could not escape decimation by political mur- 
der during those years. 

It should also be emphasized that no party could organize and run 
candidates in EI Salvador that put high priority on terminating the war 
by negotiations with the rebels. What makes this especially important 
is that reporters and observers were unanimous in 1982 that the main 
thing the public wanted out of the election was peace. The propaganda 
formula for getting out the vote in 1982 was "ballots versus bullets," 
with the implication that ballots were a possible route to a reduction 
in the use of bullets. If, in fact, no peace candidate was eligible to run, 
the election was a fraud for this reason alone. 

Defenders of these elections have argued that there was a substantial 
difference between the candidates, especially between D'Aubuisson and 
Duarte, so that VOters had a meaningful choice.^ But D'Aubuisson and 
Duarte did not disagree on the central issue of interest to the Salvado- 
ran people-whether to fight to witii or to strive for a negotiated settle- 
ment with the rebels. Both were members of the war party, with only 
tactical differences. Although Duarte made occasional demagogic 
claims that he would talk with the rebels and bring about peace, he 
never spelled out a peace-making agenda, never went beyond suggest- 
ing "dialogue" (as opposed to "negotiations," which imply the possibil- 
ity of substantive concessions), and never departed from the position 
that the rebels should lay down their arms and participate in the new 
"democracy" that Duarte and the army had established. 

Duarte joined the junta at a moment of severe crisis in March 1980, 
when all the progressive civilians had left and immediately after the 
murder of the Christian Democratic attorney-general, Mario Zamora, 
by the newly prospering death squads. It was clear that the army and 
affiliated death squads had embarked on a policy of large-scale massa- 
c-re. Duarte provided the fig leaf and apologetics that the army needed 
for the second matqnsa.^^ We believe that Duarte never would have 
received U.S. support and protection, and could not have survived in 
El Salvador, unless he had made it dear that he was in basic accord with 
the arms of the U.S. administration and the Salvadoran army. From 


1980 onward, Duarte always accepted fully the pursuit of a military 
solution and no compromise with "the subversives" (a phrase that 
Duarte uses continually, just as do the army and death- squad leaders). 
As Raymond Bonner points out, 

The repression in 1980 reached a magnitude surpassed only by the 
[first} malanza and was far worse than anything imagined under 
General Romero .... By the end of the year the number [mur- 
dered] had reached at least 9,000. Every day mutilated bodies, 
missing arms or heads, were found: behind shopping centers; 
stuffed in burlap bags and left oo dusty rural roads; hurled over 
cliffs into ravines. 42 

And through all of this, Duarte not only provided the facade of "re- 
form," he regularly complimeoted the army for its Joyal service. In a 
letter published in the Miami Herald on November 9. 1981, Duarte 
wrote that 

The armed forces are waging a heroic battle against a cruel and 
pitiless enemy supported by great resources of ideological aggres- 
sion. This goes parallel with armed aggression. This would 

be one more prey in the conquest plan in the Central Ameri- 
can region that Moscow has designed to pursue. Immediately 
after that its greatest reward would be the North American na- 

In brief, the Salvadoran public was never offered the option that the 
press itself acknowledged the voters craved. 

In Guatemala, as in El Salvador, no parties of the left participated 
in the 1984 election for a constituent assembly, and only one crippled 
party made a tentative but wholly ineffectual foray in the 1985 presiden- 
tial election.43 The main guerrilla movements were, of course, outside 
the electoral orbit. Their leaders would have been killed if ap- 
prehended, but they would not have participated anyway without a 
drastic alteration in basic social and electoral conditions." Even a 
centrist party like the Christian Democrats had suffered scores of mur- 
ders in the years 1980-83, and the current president of Guatemala, the 
Christian Democrat Vinicio Cerezo, survived three known assassina- 
tion attempts. No seriously left party could have qualified in 1984-85 
under the laws of "illicit association" mentioned earlier. 

The peasant majority was not represented or spoken for by any 
candidate. The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, an organiza- 


tion not able to function within Guatemala, has pointed out that na- 
tional political parties that speak for major groups like the working class 
or indigenous people "do not exist and ... as a result, these sectors are 
institutionally excluded from the political system. "45 Americas Watch 
states that one of the civil-patrol system's functions is "to provide 
vigilance and control of the local population, preventing any form of 
independent political organization. "46 This exclusion of the peasantry 
from any political opportunity was reflected in two ways in the 1984-85 
elections. One was that in registering for the election, only 3 percent 
of the electorate signed up as members of political parties. Another, 
more compelhng, is that no candidate in the election urged land reform, 
although this was one of the two central issues in Guatemala (the other 
being unconstrained army murder, also not an issue in the election, 
given the understanding on all sides that the army wUl remain the ruling 
force, whoever gains office). 

As with Duarte in £1 Salvador, the presence of Vinicio Cerezo as a 
candidate, and as the eventual winner in the 1985 election, raises the 
question of whether, despite the constraints on the left, Cerezo did not 
really offer a significant option to the voting public. Cerezo differen- 
tiated himself from his electoral rivals, especially toward the end of the 
campaign and the runoff, by expressing compassion for the masses and 
a determination to make changes in the human-rights picture and mass 
poverty. He occasionally mentioned the need for structural reform, 
although he was not specific and stressed that the first requirement was 
to reestablish civilian control. He was quite clear, however, that if he 
were elected, his power would be nominal at first and would have to 
be enlarged while he was in office: 

The election wiU not bring automatic transfer of real power to the 
president. There will be a handover offormal power. What are my 
chances of consolidating that power? Fifty-fifty.'" 

During the election campaign, Cerezo never straightforwardly ad- 
dressed the question of land reform, and news reports in Guatemala 
suggested that he had promised the landowners' lobby that land reform 
was not on his agenda. Similarly, he did not promise any legal action 
against those who had murdered thousands, nor did he say that he 
would dismantle the counterinsurgency state. There would seem to 
have been at least a tacit understanding between Cerezo and the mili- 
tary that he would protect them against prosecution and preserve their 
power and relative autonomy; in fact, he could not do otherwise and 
survive. 49 In the year and a half that has elapsed since he took office. 


Cerezo has made no meaningful move toward land reform, has sup- 
ported the army vigorously against any accounting, and has made no 
move to dismantle the civil patrols, the development poles, and other 
features of institutionalized terror. The human- rights situation in 
Guatemala "remains terrible,"5I although improved (but partly because 
higher rates of kilhng are no longer deemed beneficial). The poor, for 
whom he expressed so much compassion during the electoral campaign, 
have suffered further losses in real income, as Cerezo's "reforms" have 
accommodated the demands of the army and oligarchy. He is on very 
poor terms with the Mutual Support Group. Thus, the postelection 
pattern shows that Cerezo, in part by prior agreement but more deci- 
sively by structural constraints, has been entirely unable to serve his 
mass constituency. In the 1984-85 electiviil, Cerezo gave the Guatema- 
lan people an opportunity to vote for a man of seeming goodwill and 
good intentions, but one unable to respond to democratic demands 
opposed by the real rulers of the state. 

In Nicaragua, in 1984, the spectrum of candidates was much wider 
than in EI Salvador, Guatemala, or, for that matter, the United States. 52 
The Conservative Democratic party and the Independent Liberal party 
both issued strong calls for respect for private property, reduced gov- 
ernment control of the economy, elimination of press and other con- 
trols, and a foreign policy of greater nonalignment and accommodation. 
Both were able to denounce the Sandinistas for the war and to call for 
depoliticization of the army and negotiations with the contras. Arturo 
Cruz, after lengthy negotiations with representatives of the govern- 
ment, chose not to run in the 1984 election. But this was a voluntary 
act of Cruz (albeit under heavy U.S. pressure),53 in contrast with the 
position of the left in El Salvador and Guatemala, and was not based 
on physical threats to his person or limits on his access to the popu- 
lace. 54 

The FSLN had a strong advantage over the opposition parties as the 
party in power, defending the country from foreign attack and having 
mobilized the population for their own projects of development. The 
LASA group felt that much of the incumbency advantage of the FSLN 
was characteristic of governments everywhere, and concluded: 

It seems clear that the FSLN took substantial advantage of its 
incumbent position and, in some ways, abused it. However, the 
abuses of incumbency do not appear to have been systematic; and 
neither the nature of the abuses n-)r their frequency was such as 
to cripple the opposition parties' campaigns or to cast doubt on 


the fundamental validity of the electoral process Generally 

speaking, in this campaign the FSLN did little more to take ad- 
vantage of its incumbency than incumbent parties everywhere 
(including the United States) routinely do, and considerably less 
than ruling parties in other Latin American countries traditionally 
have done. 55 

We would conclude that the ability of candidates to qualify and nin> 
and the range of options, was substantially greater in Nicaragua than 
in El Salvador and Guatemala. Furthermore, as aU major political 
groups of the left were off the ballot by threat of violence in the latter 
two cases, those elections fail to meet still another basic electoral condi* 

3.2.5. Absence of state terror and 
a climate of fear 

During the years 1980-84 the death squads worked freely in £1 Salva- 
dor, in close coordination with the army and security forces. The 
average rate of killings of civilians in the thirty months prior to the 1981 
election was approximately seven hundred per month. Many of these 
victims were raped, tortured, and mutilated. All of this was done with 
complete impunity, and only the murder of four American women 
elicited-by dint of congressional pressure-any kind of legal action. 
Even William Doherty of the American Institute for Free Labor Devel- 
opment- a longtime supporter of U.S. pohcy in El Salvador-asserted 
before a congressional committee that there was nO system of justice 
operative in that country, while Leonel G6meXj a former land-reform 
official in El Salvador, told the same committee a bit later that state 
terror had put the population in a state of «fearful passivity. 

In Guatemala, too, the endemic fear based on years of unconstrained 
and continuing army violence was a dominant fact of national life. 
According to Americas Watch, writing in early 1985, 

Torture, kiUings, and disappearances continue at an extraordinary 
rate, and millions of peasants remain under the strict scrutiny and 
control of the government through the use of civil patrols and 
"model villages!' Guatemala remains, in short, a nation of prison- 
er s.^'' 



The law group described Guatemala in 1985 as "a country where the 
greater part of the people Mve in permanent fear."s8 

In the case of Nicaragua, we repeat the central fact that differentiates 
it from the U.S. client states: in 1984 its government was not murdering 
civilians.** The main fear of ordinary citizens in Nicaragua was of 
violence by the contras and the United States. 

Our conclusion is that the fifth condition for a free election was met 
in Nicaragua, but not in EI Salvador and Guatemala. And our overall 
finding is that neither Et Salvador nor Guatemala met any of the five 
basic conditions of a free election, whereas Nicaragua met some of 
them well, others to a lesser extent. 


As we noted, in the U.S. government's sponsored elections, voter turn- 
out is interpreted as public support for the election and its sponsors. 
In disapproved elections (here, Nicaragua), this frame is abandoned, 
and voter turnout is either ignored or declared meaningless because of 
limited options or coercive threats by the authorities. But the question 
of coercive threats should clearly be raised in all cases where this is a 
potential problem. As we have just described, the elections in £1 Salva- 
dor were held under conditions of military rule where mass killings of 
"subversives" had taken place and a climate of fear had been estab- 
lished. If the government then sponsors an election and the local mili- 
tary authorities urge people to vote, a significant part of the vote should 
be assumed to be a result of built-in coercion. A propaganda model 
would anticipate that the U.S. mass media make no such assumption, 
and they did not. 

In El Salvador in 1982 and 1984, voting was also required by law. The 
law stipulated that failure to vote was to be penalized by a specific 
monetary assessment, and it also called on local authorities to check out 
whether voters did in fact vote. This could be done because at the time 
of voting one's identification card (ID, cedula) was stamped, acknowl- 
edging the casting of a vote. Anybody stopped by the army and police 
would have to show the ID card, which would quickly indicate whether 
the individual had carried out his or her patriotic duty. Just prior to the 
March 1982 election, Minister of Defense Garcia warned the popula- 
tion in the San Salvador newspapers that the failure to vote would be 


regarded as an act of treason. And in the 1984 election, "Advertising by 
the government and miUtary prior to the elections stressed the obliga- 
tion to vote rather than the freedom to vote. "60 Given the climate of 
fear, the voting requirement, the ID stamp, the army warning, and the 
army record in handling "traitors," it is evident that the coercive ele- 
ment in generating turnout in Salvadoran elections has been large. This 
is supported by queries made by independent observers on the reasons 
why Salvadorans voted. ^1 

In Guatemala, as in £1 Salvador, voting was required by law; nonvot- 
ers were subject to a fine of five quetzales ($1.25). Also, as in El Salvador, 
newspaper ads sponsored by the army assened that it was treasonous 
to fail to vote or to vote null or blank. The law group reported that 
"many" people expressed fears that nonvoting would subject them to 
reprisals, and after the military threats in the week before the election 
there was "a widespread belief that failure to vote would be punishable 
by more than the f\vt-queizal fine stipulated by law."63 

In Nicaragua, while registration was obligatory, voting was not re- 
quired by law. Voter-registration cards presented on election day were 
retained by election officials, so that the failure to vote as evidenced by 
the lack of a validated voter credential could not be used as the basis 
of reprisals. 64 Most of the voters appeared to LASA observers to be 
voting under no coercive threat-they did not have to vote by law; they 
were urged to vote but not threatened with the designation of "traitors" 
for not voting; there were no obvious means of identifying nonvoters; 
and the government did not kill dissidents, in contrast to the normal 
practice in El Salvador and Guatemala. 

In sum, Nicaragua did not have a potent coercion package at work 
to help get out the vote-as did the Salvadoran and Guatemalan gov- 


In reporting on the 1982 Salvadoran election, the U.S. mass media 
closely followed the government agenda. The personalities of the can- 
didates, the long Mnes waiting to vote, alleged rebel disruption, and 


"turnout" were heavily featured. 6s As Jack Spence pointed out, "every 
media outlet, particularly the networks, cast the election-day story in 

3 framework of voting in the midst of extensive guerrilla violence at 
polling places."66 Warren Hoge and Richard Meislin, of the New York 
Times, repeated day after day that the rebels were threatening disrup- 
tion, Hoge asserting that "The elections have taken on a significance 
beyond their outcome because leftist guerrillas mounted a campaign to 
disrupt them and discourage voters from going to the polls. "67 This is 
a precise statement of the government's propaganda frame. But Hoge 
and Meislin never once cited a rebel source vowing disruption, and 
nobody else did, either. On election day no voters were killed or polling 
stations attacked, and the general level of rebel military activity was 
below average. In short, the disruption claims were falsifications of both 
plans and election-day results, but as they fit the patriotic agenda they 
were given prominence, repeated frequently, and used to establish the 
contest between the forces of good and evil.^^ At the election-day dose, 
Dan Rather exclaimed, "A triumph! A million people to the polls." 
Rather did not regard it as a triumph that the Sandinistas got 700,000 
people to the polls-a higher proportion of the population, and without 
a voting requirement. The propaganda frame of the government gave 
turnout high importance in the Salvadoran election but none in the 
Nicaraguan election, and Rather followed Jike a good lap dog. 

Neither Rather nor any other media analyst on or before March 30, 
1982, noted that voting was required by law in E1 Salvador, and nQt Qne 
mentioned the warning by the defense minister, General Guillermo 
Garcia, in the San Salvador newspapers that nonvoting was treaso- 
nous. The basic parameters were entirely off the media agenda. The 
destruction of La CTonica and El Independiente and the murder of 
twenty-six journalists prior to the election were unmentioned in dis- 
cussing the election's quality and meaning. ''o The army and its allies had 
been killing civilians on a massive scale in £1 Salvador, for many months 
before (and into) March 1982. Would this not create a climate of fear 
and, in conjunction with a state of siege, somewhat encumber free 
debate and free choice? The point was rarely even hinted at in the mass 

Could candidates run freely and campaign without fear of murder? 
Could the rebels qualify and run? After all, if it was a civil war, the 
rebels were clearly the "main opposition." Again, the mass media 
played dumb. They pretended that this exclusion was not important, 
or that it represented a willful boycott by the rebels rather than a refusal 
based on conditions unfavorable to a ^iree election and a blatantly 


Stacked deQc. Neither the March 1981 death list nor the Gutierrez 
statement that the FDR would not be permitted to run were mentioned 
by the mass media in our sample. They never once suggested that the 
election plan was to create an electoral environment of extreme coer- 
cion and bias in which the rebels could not run, and then use this for 
the dramatic game of disruption and triumphant turnout. That the 
military agreed to the election because it couldn't lose was never sug- 
gested by these media. 

The role of the army was summarized by Warren Hoge in the New 
York Times: 

Is the mihtary playing any role in the election? Members of the 
military are not allowed to vote, and the armed forces are pledged 
to protect voters from violence and to respect the outcome of the 

We may note that the army's mass killing of civilians and systematic 
destruction and demobilization of virtually aU popular organizations in 
El Salvador over the preceding thirty months, which bears on what 
Secretary of State Shultz referred to as the "preliminary aspects that 
make an election mean something," is not part of the army's "role" for 
Hoge and the Times. Roge repeats the Salvadoran army's pledge, not 
only taking it at face value, but never suggesting that it (and the election 
itself) was meaningless in a terror state where the "main opposition" 
was off the ballot and only the war parties were able to field candidates. 
In the propaganda framework, the security forces of client states "pro- 
tect elections";?! only those of enemy states interfere with the freedom 
of its citizens to vote without constraint. 

As noted earlier, observers and reporters in El Salvador all agreed 
that the populace was most eager for an end to the war, and government 
propaganda even stressed that voting was an important vehicle to that 
end- the public was urged to substitute "ballots for bullets." But no 
peace party was on the Salvadoran baUot. And after the election was 
over, the war went on, and the death squads continued to flourish. This 
is in accordance with the hypothesis that the real purpose of the elec- 
tion was to placate the home population of the United States and render 
them willing to fund more war and terror. It is a poor fit to the hypothe- 
sis that the people of EI Salvador had a free choice. An honest press 
would point up the failure of the election to substitute "ballots for 
bullets." The mass media of the United States did nOt raise the issue. 

Nor did the experience of 1982 and its aftermath affect the media's 


willingness to follow the patriotic agenda once again in 1984. We will 
return to this below in a statistical comparison of the New York Times's 
coverage of the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan elections. 


The U.S. government was less deeply involved in the Guatemalan 
elections of 1984 and 1985 than it was in those held in El Salvador, but, 
as we saw in chapter 2, the Reagan administration went to great pains 
to put a favorable gloss on the murderous regimes of Lucas Garcia, Rios 
Monu, and Mejia Victores, and to attempt to reintegrate them fully into 
the free-world alliance.''"* It encouraged the 1984-85 elections, provided 
advisory and financial support for election management, and gave pub- 
lic-relations assistance and sent official observers to help put the elec- 
tion in a favorable light. There was little effort made to disguise the fact 
that the purpose of the election, from the standpoint of the Reagan 
administration and the ruling army, was to alter the international 
"image" of Guatemala in order to facilitate aid and loans. 

With the administration supporting the new look, but without the 
intensity of commitment and propaganda backup brought to bear in El 
Salvador, and given the steady stream of reports of ongoing mass 
murder in Guatemala, a propaganda model would anticipate a media 
response that put the Guatemalan elections in a favorable light, but 
with qualifications. There was, in fact, far less coverage than of the 
Salvadoran election; what there was had a little more "balance," but the 
apologetic framework was still overwhelmingly dominant. 

A telling manifestation of bias was the media's ready acceptance of 
the Guatemalan elections as meaningful, even though they were admit- 
tedly for image-malting, in a context of long-standing army rule and 
massacre, and despite new institutional arrangements in the country- 
side-the massive relocations of the population^ the "model villages," 
and the civil-defense patrols-that were, on their face, incompatible 
with a free election. In an enemy state where an election was held under 
comparable conditions, it would be designated a meaningless public- 
relations exercise. In the case of Guatemala, however, the civil patrols 
and ongoing massacres were rarely mentioned, sources that addressed 
these matters were ignored, and the overall tone of the news was 
cautiously hopeful and optimistic. It was the consensus that the 1984 


election for a constituent assembly was "encouraging" and an impor- 
tant first step, and that the 1985 presidential election "ended [emphasis 
added] more than 30 years of military domination" (Newsweek, Jan. 17, 
1986). Dan Rather, on CBS News, reported that Cerezo became 
Guatemala's "first civilian leader after rhirty years of almost uninter- 
rupted military rule" (Dec. 9, 1985). This is ambiguous, but the implica- 
tion, directly asserted by Newsweek, is that Cerezo, not the army, rules. 
Julio Mendez Montenegro was a civilian president from 1966 to 1970, 
but he did not rule, and he was eventually discredited by the fact that 
he presided over a huge escalation of army violence. Given the earlier 
experience, the fact that the generals had made it clear that the civilian 
government was "a project" of the militaryj'* and Cerezo's own ex- 
pressed reservations about his power, objective news reporting would 
have been careful about an alleged ending of military rule. 

As in the case of EI Salvador, the murderous rule ofthe Guatemalan 
generals did not delegitimize them for the U.S. mass media nor suggest 
any possible justice to the rebel cause. Time noted (Feb. 27, 1984) that 
a leftist insurgency "poses a permanent challenge to the regime," but 
it did not inquire into the roots of this insurgency or suggest that its 
leaders constituted a "main opposition" whose ability to run would be 
an "acid test" of election integrity (as they pronounced in Nicaragua). 
Time also did not observe that the regime poses a permanent challenge 
to the survival of its population. The mass murders ofthe Guatemalan 
state were even semi-justified by the unquestioned need to quell insur- 
gents- "Much ofthe killing," says Time, "is linked to Mejia's success 
against the insurgents." The phrase "linked to" is an apologetic euphe- 
mism to obscure the fact that Mejia's "success" was based on the mass 
murder of men, women, and children in literally hundreds of destroyed 
villages. 1^ Mejia has a "mixed record," with the mass murder offset by 
"improvements in some important areas" (the State Department, 
quoted by Time). Mejia, says Time, "won support because he has kept 
the promises he made after seizing power." Time never explains how 
it determined that Mejia "won support," or from whom, other than the 
U.S. State Department. Was the press then free to speak out? Did a 
system of justice come into being? 

In chapter 2 we summarized Americas Watch's demonstration that 
the Reagan administration made serial adjustments in its apologetics for 
each successive Guatemalan terrorist general, with a lagged^ tacit ac 
knowledgment that it had previously been lying. This has no influence 
whatsoever on Time's treatment of State Department pronouncements 
as authentic truth-the standard from which other claims may be eval- 
uated. Thus Time says that "Americas Watch, a controversial group 


that is often accused of being too sympatiietic to the left, called 
Guatemala 'a nation of prisoners.' " Time doesn't independently evalu- 
ate the quality of sources-the State Department is unchallenged be- 
cause it expounds the official and patriotic truth. Americas Watch is 
denigrated (and only rarely cited, even with a dismissing put-down) 
because it challenges official propaganda. Pravda could hardly be more 
subservient to state demands than Time in its coverage of demonstra- 
tion elections. 

The mass media's sourcing on the Guatemalan election was confined 
almost entirely to U.S. officials and official observers, the most promi- 
nent Guatemalan political candidates, and generals. Spokespersons for 
the insurgents-what in Nicaragua would be labeled the "main opposi- 
tion" -the smaller parties, spokespersons for popular organizations, 
the churches, human-rights groups, and ordinary citizens, were essen- 
tially ignored by the media. Tim£, Newsweek and CBS News almost 
never talked to ordinary citizens or spokespersons for the insurgents. 
Stephen Kinzer, in the Times, had only one citation to a rebel source 
in several dozen articles on Guatemala during the election periods, 
although on election day in 1984 he did speak with a number of ordinary 
citizens (who gave a much less optimistic view than Kinzer' s usual 

The restricted menu of media sources flows from and reinforces the 
media's propensity to adopt a patriotic agenda. U.S. government offi- 
cials and observers are always optimistic and hopeful in their state- 
ments about sponsored elections. The leading contestant politicians are 
also moderately optimistic, as they have a good chance of acquiring at 
least nominal power. They do, however, express occasional doubts 
about whether the army will relinquish power. This allows the election 
drama to assume a slightly different character from that in EI Salvador, 
where it was the democratic army "protecting the election" versus the 
undemocratic rebels who refused to lay down their arms and partici- 
pate. In Guatemala, the frame was: Will the generals keep their promise 
to stay in the barracks? The triumph is that they do stay in the bar- 
racks-a civilian president takes office and now "rules." The media 
then quickly drop the subject, so that whether the army really does 
relinquish power to the civilian leaders is never checked out (just as the 
"peace" sought by the populace in El Salvador was never considered 
in retrospect). In Poland, in January 1947, and Nicaragua, in 1984, and 
in enemy states generally, the focus was on the substance of power, and 
the extent to which that power shaped the electoral results in advance, 
as by limiting the ability of important constituencies to run for office 
and compete effectively. Not so for Guatemala. 


If the mass media had enlarged their sources, fundamental condi- 
tions would have assumed greater prominence. For example, before 
both the July I, 1984, and December 1985 elections in Guatemala, the 
Guatemala Bishops' Conference issued pastoral statements that sug- 
gested in no uncertain terms and with detailed arguments that condi- 
tions in the country were incompatible with a free election. Its pastoral 
letter of June 8, 1984, focused on the civil-defense patrols as "suscepti- 
ble to manipulation," and it discussed tht disappearances, "insatiable 
corruption," and the fact that sociopolitical structures are "not capable 
of promoting the welfare of the whole society."79 Stephen Kinzer men- 
tioned this report in a Times news article of July 22, 1984, but his 
reference is made afler the election of JUly I, and Kinzer did not use 
it to frame the discussion of electoral conditions and to arrive at an 
assessment of the quality of the election. Furthermore, his summary of 
the twenty-seven-page report, that it "denounced torture, electoral 
fraud, concentration of wealth and 'massacres of entire families,'" 
ignores the quite specific critique of the conditions bearing on an elec- 
tion. Time mentioned this pastoral letter briefly; Newsweek and CBS 
News never mentioned it. 

In connection with the 1985 election, the bishops put forth another 
powerful statement, once again questioning whether an election can be 
meaningful in "a situation close to slavery and desperation. "80 They 
point out that the civil-defense patrols, the "ideology of national secu- 
rity," and hunger and impoverishment are not conducive to serious 

In order that the longed-for results be obtained, there must be not 
only the freedom at the moment of casting one's vote, but also a 
whole series of particular social, political and economic conditions 
which are, unfortunately, not happening in Guatemala. In effect 
there still persist in Guatemala harsh violence, lack of respect for 
human rights and the breaking of basic laws. It is a fact that any 
citizen pressured, terrorized or threatened is not fully able to 
exercise his/her right to vote or to be elected conscientiously. 

This letter was not mentioned in the major media or anywhere else, to 
our knowledge, although the bishops are conservative, credible, and 
one of the few organized bodies in Guatemala not crushed by state 

There were other dissenting voices in Guatemala-politicians of the 
lesser parties, union officials, human-rights groups, lawyers, and ju- 
rists-who spoke out occasionally on the Mmits to free electoral condi- 


tions in Guatemala. And there were events of note that threw a power- 
fullight on the subject. Most of these were blacked out in the U.S. mass 
media. For example,81 on July 4. 1984, the Guatemalan Human, Rights 
Commission issued a statement in Mexico saying that the election's 
meaning should be viewed in the context of three important facts: 
namely, that the requirements for a meaningful election stipulated by 
the United Nations in a March 14 statement had not been met; that the 
left had been excluded from participation in the election; and that 115 
persons had been murdered or disappeared i n the thirty days prior to 
the election of July i. This statement, and the facts cited by the commis- 
sion, were ignored in the U.S. press. 

Consider also the following facts: On May 3, General Oscar Mejia 
Vi'ctores removed Ricardo Sagastume Vidaure from his position as 
president of the judiciary and the supreme court. On April ii, the 
judiciary had issued writs of habeas corpus on behalf of 157 kidnapped 
individuals, and Sagastume had protested to Mejia Victores over the 
difficulty in proceeding against military abuses. On May 4, Acisco 
Valladares Molina, head of the Populist party, noted that Sagastume 
had been "fired like a simple subordinate." On May 8, a communique 
from the Guatemalan bar association stated that in Guatemala there is 
no rule of law, as demonstrated by the constant violation of human 
rights and uncontrolled exercise of arbitrary power. By May 8, at least 
sixteen judicary officials, including supreme court and court of appeals 
magistrates, had resigned in protest at Sagustume's removal. 

Stephen Kinzer never discussed any of these events, or their mean- 
ing, in the TimeSi nor did any of his colleagues elsewhere in the mass 
media. This is in accord with our hypothesis that in elections held in 
client states, fundamental electoral conditions, such as the presence or 
absence of the rule of law, are off the agenda. The point applies to other 
relevant structural conditions. Thus, while Kinzer occasionally men- 
tioned the civil-defense patrols, he never described them and their 
operations in any detail or tied them in with other institutional struc- 
tures of control, and he failed to relate them in a systematic way to army 
power. The numerous reports on these coercive institutions and their 
terrorist ro]e by Amnesty International, Americas Watch, and the Brit- 
ish Parliamentary Human Rights Group were almost never cited by 
Kinzer in providing facts relevant to the Guatemalan elections. Al- 
though the constituent assembly elected in 1984 produced a new consti- 
tution, K.inzer never once discussed the nature of this instrument, 
which validated the special army role and structural constraints on 
freedom of the press. 


Kinzer was reporting news in a way that fit the Times 's editorial 
position and the U.S. government agenda. The Times editorial frame 
was that "The military, in power for most of 31 years, has honored its 
promise to permit the free election of a civilian president. "82 Kinzer's 
news articles of the same period convey the same message — one oft.hem 
is entitled "After 30 Years Democracy Gets a Chance in Guatemala" 
(Nov. 10, 1985)-whic.h accurately summarizes the contents, although 
they contain an undercurrent of reserved final judgment. That central 
message was false, however, if the basic conditions of a free election 
were not met, if the army's power remained unimpaired, and if these 
were confirmed in a written constitution that allows the army freedom 
from the rule of law and a license to kill without constraint from the 
nominal "democracy. "83 Kinzer could only convey this false message 
by ignoring the Sagastume case, the institutional arrangements of the 
counterinsurgency state, the ongoing murders, and the omnipresent 
fear-i.e., the basic conditions of a free election-and by laying stress 
instead on expressions of hope, orderliness of the election processes, 
and army promises-i.e., the government's propaganda agenda in a 
demonstration election. 

In what must be one of the low points of his journalistic career, in 
an article of December 27, 1985 ("Guatemala Vote Heartens Nicaragua 
Parties"), Kinzer even implies that the Guatemala election establishes 
an electoral model for Nicaragua. He describes a Cerezo visit to Nicara- 
gua, in which Kinzer features the encouragement Cerezo gives to the 
dissident parties that perhaps the power of the Sandinistas can be 
broken by patience (implying that Cerezo had broken the power of the 
army in Guatemala and was in full command). The article closes with 
a quote from an opposition figure: "Ortega is now the last President in 
Central America who wears a military uniform, and the contrast is 
going to be evident. " Nowhere in the article does Kinzer point out that 
army power can not be read from whether the head of state wears a 
uniform, or that the rule of the army in Guatemala has not yet been 
overcome. He does not refer to the fact that the Guatemalan army has 
killed tens of thousands of ordinary civilians. Nor does he show any 
recognition of the fact that the election held in Nicaragua was much 
more open than that held in Guatemala. On the contrary, this is a fact 
that the media, including the New York Times, explicitly and consis- 
tently deny, in accordance with state imperatives. 

As in the case of El Salvador, the U.S. mass media never suggested 
that the exclusion of the Guatemalan insurgent groups rendered the 
Guatemalan election meaningless. Kinzer several times mentioned with 


extreme brevity that the left was off the ballot, but he never asked 
anybody to discuss the meaning of this in terms of the options available 
to the various segments of society. As coauthor of an important book 
on this topic, Kinzer is well aware of the facts.** The vast majority of 
Guatemalans are very poor, and they have been entirely excluded from 
political participation or representation since 1954. The insurgency 
grew out of the parlous condition and exploitation of that mass, and the 
absence of any possibility of a democratic process to alleviate injustice 
and misery. The ruling army had allowed only parties to run and 
civilians to hold office who agreed, tacitly or explicitly, to keep off the 
policy agenda all maners of central concern to the impoverished major- 
ity. There is no way to measure the strength of popular support for the 
insurgents, but in light of the fact that they espouse programs well 
oriented to the interests of the general population and have been able 
to maintain an insurgency without significant external aid, and that the 
army response has been a war against virtually the entire rural popula- 
tion, the rebel claim to be a "main opposition" would appear to be 
stronger than that of Arturo Cruz and his upper-class Nicaraguan 
associates. And if the rebels — or any candidates who would threaten the 
army and oligarchy in ways appealing to the majority— cannot qualify 
in a Guatemalan election, is it not essentially fraudulent? This was 
strongly suggested in both 1984 and 1985 by the Guatemalan Bishops' 
Conference, but this respectable source, in contrast with Arturo Cruz 
and Robert Leiken, is blacked out. As with EI Salvador, the election was 
not evaluated, either in advance or in retrospect, on the basis of whether 
or not the fundamental requirements of a free election were met. For 
the U.S. government, the insurgents were not a main opposition, 
Guatemalan state terror was merely a public-relations inconvenience, 
and the elections were fair. The mass media's treatment of the 
Guatemalan election reflected well this government propaganda 


In contrast with the Salvadoran and Guatemalan cases, the Reagan 
administration was intent on discrediting the Nicaraguan election, 
which threatened to legitimize the Sandinista government and thus 


weaken the case for U.S. funding of a terrorist army. The administra- 
tion had been berating the Sandinistas for failing to hold an election, 
but the actual holding of one was inconvenient. From the inception of 
Nicaraguan planning for the election, therefore, the administration 
began to express doubts about its quality. And just as it devoted itself 
to creating a positive image of the two client-state elections, so it 
expended substantial resources to depict the Nicaraguan election in the 
worst possible light. The media dutifully followed course, as a propa- 
ganda model predicts. 

The mass media failed to call attention to the cynicism of first 
assaihng Nicaragua for failing to hold an election, and then striving to 
have the election either postponed or discredited. Time even cites the 
absence of "official delegations [of observers] from the major western 
democracies" (Nov. 19, 1984), as if this were evidence of something 
discreditable in the election, rather than as a reflection of U.S. power. 
There were 450-odd foreign observers in attendance at the Nicaraguan 
election, some with superb credentials, observing more freely and at 
greater length than the official U.S. observers in El Salvador and 

Guatemala. Time and the rest of the mass media paid no attention to 
them. ^6 

Stephen Kinzer's use of observers is noteworthy. In the case of 
Nicaragua, he completely ignored the unofficial observers-many ex- 
ceedingly well qualified to observe, as we have noted-and he even 
ignored the official Dutch government team, drawn from the center- 
right and highly apologetic about atrocities in El Salvador, which 
observed both the Salvadoran and the Nicaraguan elections and con- 
cluded that the elections in Nicaragua "were more open than in El 
Salvador, in the sense that more people were able to take part; that the 
opposition did not fear for their lives"; and that "the legitimation ofthe 
regime is thus confirmed."87 In Guatemala, by contrast, he cited the 
official observer report in both the 1984 and 1985 elections, despite their 
great bias and superficiality (see the report discussed in appendix I). In 
the 1984 Guatemala election, Kinzer did refer to the report of the 
unofficial Human Rights Law Group that we cited earlier, quoting their 
statement that the voting process was "procedurally correct," but neg- 
lecting to note here and elsewhere their numerous statements to the 
effect that "the greater part ofthe population lives in permanent fear" 
(p. 4), so that "procedural correctness" has little meaning. 

With no U.S. -government-designated official observers available in 
Nicaragua, the media relied even more heavily than usual on U.S. 
government handouts. It is enlightening to compare this conduited 
propaganda of the mass media with the findings of foreign-observer 


teams on the scene in Nicaragua. For the purpose of this comparison, 
which follows, we will use two such reports. One, that of the Irish 
Inter-Party Parliamentary Delegation, is The Elections in Nicaragua, 
November 1^84. The delegation was composed offoux individuals, three 
from right-wing or moderate-right political parties, who spent seven- 
teen days in Nicaragua at the time of the election. We will also use as 
a basis of comparison of media coverage the previously cited report of 
the Is-member delegation sent by the Latin American Studies Associa- 
tion (LASA), half of whom had had "substantial field experience" in 
Nicaragua itself. This delegation spent eight days in Nicaragua before 
the election, traveled in a rented bus, determined their own itinerary, 
and "spoke with anyone who we chose to approach (as well as numer- 
ous people who spontaneously approached US)."88 

3.6.1. Tone of negativism and 

Time magazine hardly attempts to hide the fact that it takes its cues 
from Washington. It quotes John Hughes, then a public-relations man 
for the State Department (and previously, and subsequently, a colum- 
nist for the Christian Science Monitor): "It was not a very good election. 
... It was just a piece of theatre for the Sandinistas. "89 Time follows 
this cue with a series of denigrating strokes: "The Sandinistas win, as 

expected. The Nicaraguan election mood was one of indifference. 

. . . The outcome was never in doubt Something of an anticlimax" 

(all in the issue of November 19, 1984). In an earlier article (October 
29), Time indulged in the same negative refrain: "A campaign without 
suspense," voters "too apathetic to go to the polls at all" (this was a 
forecast dredged up well before the election). In both articles, "fear" 
was also featured heavily. In the Salvadoran election. Time's tone was 
different: "There was no denying the remarkable sense of occasion" 
(Le., the Reagan administration had a big public-relations investment 

in the election); "hundreds of thousands braved the threats, and 

sometimes the bullets, of the Marxist-led [FMLN] to join long serpen- 
tine polling lines for the country's much awaited presidential elections" 
(Apr. 9j 1984).90 In Guatemala too, "Some 1.8 million voters braved 
four-hour polling lines, tropical rainstorms and a bewildering array of 
political choices to cast ballots in their country's most open and fraud- 
free elections in more than a decade" ouly 16, 1984). There is never 
apathy or fear of government force in Time's renditions of demonstra- 
tion elections. 


Stephen Kinzer, in the Times, also took a far less kindly view of the 
election in Nicaragua than of those in Guatemala, giving enormous 
attention to election opponents like the U.S. candidate Arturo Cruz 
(whereas in Guatemala he almost completely ignored the small parties, 
union protesters, rebels, and human-rights groups), and finding more 
people voting out of fear than he did in Guatemala, a remarkable 
discovery given the circumstances in the two countries. He focuses 
steadily on the Sandinistas' efforts to get out the vote, the fact that the 
election result is a foregone conclusion, claims of the breaking up of 
election rallies, and allegations of unfairness and withdrawals by the 
opposition. As with Time, the voters are "philosophical," "enthusiasm 
for the election was not universal," and "there was little visible enthusi- 
asm." Kinzer did not compare the electoral modalities, range of op- 
tions, or other basic conditions in Nicaragua and Guatemala (or El 
Salvador). In short, he discussed different questions in his news report- 
ing on the elections in Nicaragua and Guatemala, adhering closely to 
the propaganda frame. '2 

On the alleged negativism and apathy, both the Irish and LASA 
delegations noted that voting was not required in Nicaragua and was 
entirely secret. Therefore, as the Irish delegation pointed out, the low 
rate of abstention is more meaningful and "invalidates predictions that 
large sectors of the population were opposed to the election. Further- 
more, the percentage of spoiled votes (7.4 percent) is comparable to any 
European election in a country with a highly literate population" (p. 
7). They also note that 

Speaking with one old matij awaiting his turn to vote in a rural 
polling station, one member of the delegation inquired: "What 
difference do you see between this and any other election in which 
you voted?" He replied: "Everything." "In what way?" He simply 
shrugged: "Everything is different." 

The U.S. media never located anybody like this old man. The Irish 
delegation also pointed out that 

Some observers from other countries suggested that the people 
did not appear enthusiastic as they went to the polls. This is not 
surprising as people stood in long queues waiting patiently their 
turn to go behind the curtain to mark their ballot paper. One 
member of the delegation who had the opportunity to observe 
voters in the American election just two days later, noted no 
greater enthusiasm for standing in queues there! 


It is our belief that the invariable enthusiasm and optimism found by 
the U.S. mass media in client-state elections, and the apathy and nega- 
tivism found in elections in states disfavored by the U.S. administra- 
tion, has nothing to do with electoral realities and must be explained 
entirely by an imposed propaganda agenda and the filtering out of 
contrary opinion and information. 

3.6.2. Ignoring the superior 
quality of the Nicaraguan 

In the propaganda format, a great deal of attention is paid to the 
mechanical properties of elections in client states, but not in states 
whose elections are being denigrated. This was true in the cases under 
discussion. Time (Apr. 9, 1984) described in detail the elaborate elec- 
toral preparations in El Salvador, the "tamper-proof procedures, the 
use of transparent Lucite ballot boxes, and the indelible-ink marking 
and stamping of ID cards. It turned out, however, that the high-tech, 
computerized voting procedures weren't understood by the population, 
more than half of whom were illiterate. At no point did Time, or its 
media colleagues, raise any question about the importance ofimproving 
literacy as a necessary prelude to an election; nor did they suggest that 
the Lucite boxes might compromise the secrecy of the vote, or that the 
stamped ID card might be a coercive instrument helping to explain 

Nicaragua went to great pains to provide for election secrecy, and 
for an easy and intelligible system of voting. For one thing, they had 
a massive literacy campaign before the election, making electoral 
printed matter generally accessible. Both the Irish and LASA delega- 
tions mention this as an electoral plus. Nicaragua also put a high 
priority on getting a complete registration list and getting the voters 
registered. The Irish delegation noted that "Recent elections in other 
Central American countries such as EI Salvador and Guatemala did not 
introduce such measures, and there was considerable debate concern- 
ing the validity of their registers, which were based on out-of-date 
census figures, incomplete official registers of population changes, and 
other sources" (p. 5). Nicaragua also deliberately avoided transparent 
ballot boxes, ID stamping, and any other mechanism that would allow 
the authorities to identify whether or how somebody had voted. LASA 
points out that ^ 


The ballots were also printed on heavy opaque white paper. The 
contrast with Somoza-era elections is striking. The Somozas used 
translucent ballots, so virtually everyone assumed that their ballot 
was not secret. The same problem occurred in the 1984 elections 
in E1 Salvador, where thin-paper ballots were deposited in trans- 
parent ballot boxes. The vote in Nicaragua in 1984 was truly a 
secret ballot (p. 14). 

In Nicaragua, also, there was proportional voting, which made it possi- 
ble for the smaller parties to obtain legislative representation. Parties 
could also qualify quite easily to participate in the election. In 
Guatemala, 4,000 signatures were needed to qualify in 1984, a large 
number and not easy for dissident parties to collect in a society witli 
daily political murders. 

Stephen Kinzer and his associates never mentioned these differ- 
ences. More generally, the substantial merits of the Nicaraguan elec- 
tions were never contrasted with the procedures in the U.S. client 
states, a comparison that would have been most revealing and that 
would have thoroughly undermined the Reagan agenda to which the 
media were committed in their reporting of the election. Time, as noted, 
mentions the compromised Salvadoran procedures as if they were meri- 
torious. The Times mentioned the transparent voting boxes in EI Salva- 
dor only once (Richard Meislin, on March 25, 1984), repeating without 
question the official line that the purpose of the translucent boxes was 
to prevent fraud. Any other possibility is unmentioned. Newsweek and 
CBS News ignored these matters. 

3.6.3. Rebel disruption into the 
black hole; turnout no longer an 
index of triumph of democracy 

In the Salvadoran election, rebel disruption was a central feature of the 
government's propaganda frame. Because the rebels opposed the elec- 
tion, voting by the people proved their rejection of the rebels and 
approval of the army. Turnout was the index of democratic triumph 
and rebel defeat. As we saw, the mass media followed this frame with- 
out question. In the case of Nicaragua, the propaganda format was 
reversed-the rebels were the good guys, and the election held by 
the bad guys was condemned in advance. Rebel opposition to the 
election- and efforts at disruption-did not make voting and a large 


turnout a repudiation of the rebels and approval of the Sandinistas. 

The U.S. mass media once again followed the government agenda, 
even though it meant an exact reversal of the standards they had applied 
in the Salvadoran election. The contras and their supporters urged the 
public not to vote, and interfered with the election process with at least 
as much vigor as (and with more killings than) the rebels in El Salvador. 
Furthermore, voting was more assuredly secret and the citizens were 
not required to vote, or to have ID cards stamped indicating that they 
had. And the Sandinistas did not kill ordinary citizens on a daily basis, 
as was true in the "death-squad democracies." Thus turnout was far 
more meaningful in the Nicaraguan election than in the ones held in 
El Salvador and Guatemala-the public was free to abstain as well as 
to vote for opposition parties. 

The U.S. mass media disposed of this problem mainly by massive 
suppression. They simply ignored the contra-U.S. campaign for absten- 
tion, waged with threats and attacks on polling places and election 
workers; and they buried the fact of an effectively secret vote and the 
right not to vote,93 just as, in parallel, they had inflated rebel disruption 
efforts in EI Salvador in 1982 and 1984 and buried the voting requirement 
and other pressures to vote. 

Although the New York Times had gone out of its way to focus on 
the "challenge" of rebel opposition and alleged disruption as giving 
turnout special meaning in the Salvadoran election of 1982,94 Stephen 
Kinzer never once mentioned that the cantras attacked a number of 
polhng stations and had issued radio appeals for abstention. For 
Kinzer, neither these facts nor the U.S. campaign to discredit were seen 
as posing a "challenge" that made turnout meaningful in Nicaragua. 

The Irish delegation pointed out that "The Parties of the Demo- 
cratic Coordinating Committee [based in the business community! op- 
posed the voter registration, and called for a boycott of this process" 
(p. 5), and it noted that eleven polhng stations were closed down by 
counterrevolutionary activities (p. 7). The public voted in large num- 
bers "despite the possible dangers involved," which suggested tc the 
Irish delegation that turnout was significant and "showed how impor- 
tant the election was to the people" (p. 6). LASA pointed out the 
various ways in which the "main opposition" called for voter absten- 
tion, and cited the radio warnings broadcast into the country from 
Costa Rica threatening that voters would be killed by the contras (pp. 
i6, 28). LASA also pointed out that "voter turnout was heavy," with 
"more enthusiasm among voters in low-income areas than in more 
affluent neighborhoods. -ge Like Time, LASA notes that the turnout did 
not quite reahze the expectations of FSLN officials, but unlike Time, 


LASA points out that the rate of participation achieved "compares very 
favorably with the rates achieved in II other recent Latin American 
elections, as well as the 1984 U.S. presidential election ..." (p. 16).97 
In sum, the two observer reports discuss rebel disruption in Nicara- 
gua, turnout, and the meaning of that turnout. The U.S. mass media, 
which had featured these matters heavily in reference to the Salvadoran 
election-where they fitted the government's propaganda agenda- 
found them entirely unnewsworthy as regards Nicaragua. 

3.6.4. The revived sensitivity to 

As we described earlier, the "coercion package" was off the agenda for 
the U.S. government and mass media in addressing the Salvadoran and 
Guatemalan elections. So was the element of fear engendered by mass 
murder and the absence of any rule of law in these U.S. client states. 
Coercion and fear were back on the agenda, however, for Nicaragua. 
This revival was illustrated with amazing dishonesty and hypocrisy in 
Time, which had never mentioned fear and pressures from the govern- 
ment as factors possibly explaining turnout in the U.S. -sponsored elec- 
tions, even after the murder of 50,000 civilians. In Nicaragua, however, 
the "pugnacious" Sandinistas had "an awesome monopoly of force," 
and getting them to "relax their grip," which was "essential for free 
electoral competition," was extremely dubious. Time's Central Ameri- 
can correspondent George Russell even located a "Latin American 
diplomat" who says, "You can't have democracy where there is no 
personal liberty at all" (Oct. 8 and May 14, 1984). Russell and Time had 
never found the Salvadoran government "pugnacious," with any "awe- 
some monopoly of force," or as having a "grip" that needed relaxing 
for electoral competition, and personal liberty was never mentioned as 
licking or even pertinent to Salvadoran ejections. For the Nicaraguan 
election, however. Time found that "The pressure to participate was 
high: many citizens feared they would lose precious rationing cards." 
Further, "the government had made it clear that it considered failure 
to vote a counterrevolutionary stance." Later, quoting Daniel Ortega, 
"All Nicaraguans who are Nicaraguans are going to vote. The only ones 
who are not going to vote are sellouts" (Nov. 19, 1984). 

As we pointed out earlier, both the Guatemalan and Salvadoran 
army warned the public that voting was required by law and that 
nonvoting was treasonous. These statements were more precisely warn- 


ings, whereas Ortega's was an insult but not a clear threat. Ortega's was 
the only such statement of its kind reported, and Time's statement that 
the government "made it clear" that nonvoting was "counterrevolu- 
tionary" is doubly di shone st-the statement was not clearly a warning, 
and "counterrevolutionary" is an invidious word concocted by Time. 
The official government position as expressed in the law was that Nica- 
raguans did not have to vote. Time suppresses this fact. It suppresses 
the secrecy of the ballot and absence of a checkable ID card, so that 
there would have been no way to implement a threat even if one had 
been made. It suppresses the fact that the Nicaraguan army did not 
regularly murder even "counterrevolutionaries," whereas the Salvado- 
ran and Guatemalan armies murdered numerous people who weren't 
"revolutionaries" but were somehow in the way. In short, propaganda 
could hardly be more brazen. 

Time 's alleged "fact," that "many" people feared the removal of the 
rationing card, is contested by LASA, which states that "in our inter- 
views in many neighborhoods in several cities, we found no evidence 
that ration cards were being held back or withdrawn ... for any 
reason." They note that there were five reports filed with the supreme 
electoral council alleging intimidation by threat of withdrawal of ration 
cards, "but none of these allegations were sustained upon investiga- 
tion" (p. 27). Time does not indicate the source of its evidence and fails 
to provide a single illustration of the "many" cases. 

We noted earlier that Stephen Kinzer cited more claims of coercion 
in the Nicaraguan than the Guatemalan elections, a remarkable jour- 
nalistic achievement, given the unchallenged facts about the actual 
scale and character of regression in the two states. His playing down 
of state terror in Guatemala as a basic factor affecting the quality of the 
election in all its dimensions-the ability of candidates to run, freedom 
of speech and press, the existence of intermediate groups, endemic fear, 
and the meaning of turnout-amounts to massive deceit. His Nicarag- 
uan coverage also involved large-scale misrepresentation. He did not 
point out the absence of mass killings, and he failed to mention the 
absence of a coercion package-no transparent boxes, no requirement 
that an ID card be stamped, and no legal obligation to vote. Kinzer's 
one notice of the voting requirement in his fourteen articles on the 
election amounts to serious deception-he quotes a voter as follows: 
" 'I've always voted because it is always required,' he said. 'Of course, 
the law says one thing, but after a while one reahzes that voting is part 
of patriotism, and patriotism leads to long life.' "98 Kinzer's source 
implies but doesn't say directly that voting is not legally required in 
Nicaragua, and this murky statement-the closest Kinzer ever comes 


to acknowledging the absence of a voting requirement-is counter- 
balanced by his respondent's suggestion that voting may be based on 
some kind of threat. 

Both the Irish and LASA delegations stressed the superior protection 
of secrecy in the balloting, which, in LASA's words, was "meticulously 
designed to minimize the potential for abuses" (p. 15). They also em- 
phasized the fact that voting was not required by law, and that, contrary 
to the U.S. government propaganda expounded by Time and other 
media entities, the coercive elements in getting out the vote were small. 
Human-rights abuses by the government that contribute to an environ- 
ment of fear, LASA pointed out, were "on a very small scale" when 
"compared to other nations in the region . . (p. 28). In fact, they note 
that fear in Nicaragua is directed more to the United States and the 
contras than to the government in Managua. 

3.6.5. The "main opposition" to the 


As we saw, in El Salvador and Guatemala, the fact that the insurgents 
were off the ballot did not faze the U.S. media one bit. Neither did 
Duarte's acknowledgment in 1981 that "the masses were with the guer- 
rillas" when he joined the junta a year earlier (which would clearly 
make them a "main opposition").99 Nor were the media affected by the 
army's murder of the opposition leadership in both El Salvador and 
Guatemala. In £1 Salvador, the exclusion of the rebels was part of the 
U.S. government's electoral plan; they were, therefore, not a "main 
opposition," and the debarment and even murder of their leaders did 
not compromise election quality. In the Nicaraguan case, in sharp 
contrast, the U.S. government worked with a different frame-the 
exclusion of its sponsored rebels and any other candidates was a serious 
matter that threatened the quality of the election. The media followed 
like good little doggies (lap- rather than watch-). 

The central dramatic propaganda hne for the Nicaraguan election 
pressed by U.S. officials was the alleged struggle of Arturo Cruz to 
induce the Sandinistas to create an open system in which he would be 
able to compete fairly, the failure of the "Marxists-Leninists" to make 
adequate concessions, Cruz's refusal to compete, and the subsequent 
"exclusion" of the "main opposition." Cruz, however, was a "main 
opposition" only in the propaganda construct of the U.S. government 
and mass media. A longtime expatriate (who now concedes that he was 


on the CIA payroll), with no mass base in Nicaragua, Cruz would 
almost certainly have done poorly in a free election. 'o° There is good 
reason to believe that Cruz never intended to run, but that he and his 
sponsors had held out this possibility precisely to allow the propaganda 

frame to be used effectively.IOI 

The mass media focused on the Cruz drama heavily and uncritically. 
Cruz was given enormous play: he was continually referred to as the 
"main opposition" or "leading opponent" of the ruling party (without 
any supporting evidence), and his candidacy was made "an acid test of 
the Sandinistas' democratic intentions" (Time, Oct. 29, 1984). For the 
Times, the election would be a "sham" without Cruz (editorial, Oct. 7, 
1984), and its news columns placed "main opposition" Cruz on center 
stage, from which vantage point he could regularly denounce the pro- 
ceedings as a "farce" or sham.'o^ xhe Times did have one good back- 
page article that provided evidence that Cruz had not intended to run 
or would not have been allowed to run by his closest Nicaraguan aUies 
and U.S. officials, and that his function was, as we stated, to discredit 
the election by pretending to be interested, thus capturing press atten- 
tion. But this low-keyed article stood alone and did not alter the 
unremitting focus on the alleged exclusion of this alleged main opposi- 
tion as the centerpiece of the Nicaraguan election drama. 

In focusing on an alleged "main opposition" in Nicaragua, which 
voluntarily chose not to run, while ignoring a real main opposition in 
El Salvador, excluded by force and plan, the mass media simply 
adopted without question the government's propaganda framework. 
Sources that would speak to the condition of the "main opposition" in 
El Salvador and the significance ofits exclusion-both Salvadorans and 
foreign observers-were simply ignored. In the case of the Nicara- 
guan election, in contrast, Cruz and U.S. government officials were 
given the floor to present their themes, which were transmitted on a 
daily basis with no accompanying notice of their possible falsity and 
manipulative intent, in perfect accord with the expectations of a propa- 
ganda model. 

The Reagan administration not only dangled Cruz before the media, 
it tried hard to induce or bribe other candidates in the Nicaraguan 
election to withdraw in order to fulfil the prophecy of a meaningless 
election. The brazenness of this intervention by a great power was 
remarkable, but the U.S. media gave it minimal attention. They never 
denounced it as antidemocratic, they failed to link it to Cruz's campaign 
(with its suggestion of a larger effort to discredit by boycott), and they 
never suggested that voter "turnout" was more meaningful given the 
active U.S. campaign to discredit the election. On October 31, 1984, 


Stephen Kinzer noted that senior U.S. officials confirmed accouncs of 
"regular contacts" with the Nicaraguan parties. Kinzer's article is head- 
lined "Nicaraguan Parties Cite Sandinista and U.S. Pressure," the 
headline and article itself equating the government's aid to, and agree- 
ments with, its own political parties with U.S. intervention to get the 
Nicaraguan parties to boycott the election! CBS, Netosweek, and Time 
ignored the U.S. bribe program entirely. Time gave great emphasis to 
the number of candidates and the withdrawal of several, but it never 
once mentioned that this was helped along by V.S. connivance, bribes, 
and pressure. It even quotes without comment the State Department 
fabrication that "it did not try to influence the outcome of the election" 
(Nov. 19, 1984). All substantive evidence is placed in the black hole. In 
the same article. Time asserts that "the U-S- had pushed hard for 
elections in which all parties felt free to participate," a fabrication of 
considerable audacity. 

As regards the scope of electoral options in Nicaragua, the Irish 
delegation noted that "The [political parties] law guarantees participa- 
tion to political parties of all ideologies," an interesting point validated 
by a range of political opinion in the contesting parties far wider than 
that found in £1 Salvador and Guatemala (or the United States). 

LASA states that "No major political tendency in Nicaragua was 
denied access to the electoral process in 1984" (p. 18). This, of course, 
could not be said of £1 Salvador and Guatemala. These important 
features of the Nicaraguan law and practice were not mentioned in the 
U.S. media or compared with those of the client states. 

The Irish delegation stressed two facts about Cruz as the "main 
opposition." First, 

The delegation found no evidence that these parties [the three 
small Cruz-related parties that boycotted the election] had wide 
support within the country. Speaking with many political figures, 
including representatives of the legitimate opposition parties, it 
became clear that the intention of Arturo Cruz to stand for elec- 
tion was dubious from the start While considerable coverage 

was given to these parties in the international press, members of 
the delegation found that their impact among the population was 
scant and few people supported their policies (p. 7). 

Second, the Irish delegation stressed the fact that the populace was free 
not to vote or to spoil votes, and the low level of both, "despite the 
abstentionism promoted by" the Cruz parties, deflated their claims to 
any serious support (p. 7). The LASA report reached similar conclu- 


sions, based on an extensive review of the evidence, namely: (I) that 
"circumstantial evidence" indicates the strong probability that Cruz 
had no intention ofrunning, and (2) that he had no mass base and would 
have been badly beaten. 

In retrospect, Kinzer concedes the fact, although with the customary 
propaganda twist. He writes that "Ortega's landshde victory was never 
in doubt," because "the opposition was splintered" (and, as he fails to 
observe, had no popular base, in contrast to the well-organized San- 
dinista party), and "because the Sandinistas controlled the electoral 
machinery." Neither he nor anyone else has offered a particle of evi- 
dence that Sandinista control over the electoral machinery made the 
elections a sham, or to contest the conclusion of the LASA delegation 
that "the FSLN did little more to take advantage of its incumbency 
than incumbent parties everywhere (including the United States) rou- 
tinely do." A few days earlier, Kinzer had quoted Arturo Cruz as 
observing that the Sandinistas deserve credit for having overthrown 
Somoza and "having broken barriers in Nicaragua that had to be bro- 
ken, and that is irreversible," because "the Sandinistas were working 
in the catacombs while we in the traditional opposition were out of 
touch with the rising expectations of the masses." As Kinzer knows, but 
wUl not write, the same was true at the time of the 1984 elections, which 
is why the Sandinisu victory was never in doubt. This deceitful dismis- 
sal of the 1984 elections is one of Kinzer's many contributions to the 
media campaign to contrast the "elected presidents" ofthe four Central 
American "democracies" with the Sandinista dictator Ortega, not an 
elected president by U.S. government imprimatur. The specific context 
was the massive media campaign to attribute the failures of the 
Guatemala City peace agreement of August 1987 to the Sandinistas, in 
accordance with Reagan administration priorities, on the eve of the 
crucial congressional vote on renewed contra aid.'*'* 

LASA also stresses the fact that Cruz—effectively representing the 
contras, a segment of the local business community, and the United 
States— eould have run in the Nicaraguan electioD, with excellent 
funding, ample media access, and without fear of being murdered. Even 
without Cruz the contras had an electoral voice. LASA notes that 

We know of no election in Latin America (or elsewhere) in which 
groups advocating the violent overthrow of an incumbent govern- 
ment have themselves been incorporated into the electoral pro- 
cess, particularly when these groups have been openly supported 
by a foreign power. The contras nevertheless had a voice in the 
1984 election campaign. Two of the Coordinadora-affiliated par- 


ties, the PSD and the PLC, supported their inclusion in the elec- 
tions. And while denying that they represented the contras, Arturo 
Cruz and the Coordinadora seemed to endorse and promote their 
cause, both within Nicaragua and abroad (p. 18). 

LASA also discusses in some detail the U.S. intervention in the elec- 
tion, noting the terrorizing overflights by U.S. planes during the elec- 
tion campaign, and considering at some length the U.S. efforts to 
induce the withdrawal of candidates. LASA reported the claims by both 
Liberal and Conservative party figures that the United States offered 
specific and large sums of money to get candidates to withdraw from 
the election. 

3.6.6. The concern over freedom of 
the press and assembly 

Not only the rights of any and all candidates to run for public office, 

but other basic conditions that had been off the agenda in El Salvador 
and Guatemala were of deep concern to the U.S. government and mass 
media in reference to Nicaragua. The New York Times, Time, Nemtoeek, 
and CBS News all put great stress on the trials and tribulations of La 
Prensa, although during the Salvadoran election none of them had 
even mentioned the destruction by physical violence and murder of La 
Cr6nica and Ellndependieme, or the toll of murdered journalists. Mob 
violence allegedly organized by the government, and the threat of the 
neighborhood defense committees, were featured by Time in Nicara- 
gua, whereas ORDEN and the death squads in El Salvador and 
Guatemala it had never mentioned as pertinent to election quality. 
Basic conditions of a free election were not only back on the media 
agenda, but there were strong suggestions that Nicaragua was failing 
to meet these conditioZlS. These suggestions were based almost entirely 
on quotes from U.S. officials and Cruz and his allies in Nicaragua. The 
media never gave evidence of having actually looked into these matters 
for themselves or tapped independent sources of evidence. 

Richard Wagner, on CBS News (Nov. 3, 1984), citing as usual Ar- 
turo Cruz as the "strongest opposition," also mobilizes a single Nica- 
raguan citizen (no doubt selected at random) who says: "How can this 
be free elections (sic J when we don't have freedom of speech, free- 
dom of the press?" Wagner says that "In addition to censorship" 
there were food shortages, a deteriorated transportation system, an 


unpopular draft, and church oppositioa, so that "it becomes apparent 
why a free and open election is not in the cards." The cynicism in 
failing to raise the question of why there are food shortages and a 
deteriorated transportation system in Nicaragua is remarkable. Wag- 
ner also misses another distinction between Nicaragua and £1 Salva- 
dor; the former has an "unpopular draft," whereas in the terror state 
of El Salvador there is no draft-instead there is press-ganging of 
young men into the army from the slums, refugee camps, and rural 
areas, while the young sons of the wealthy live the high life in San 
Salvador and Miami (much the same is true in Guatemala and Hon- 
duras). Wagner's double standard is also remarkable. In £1 Salvador 
in 1982 and 1984 there was far more severe censorship (including out- 
right murder), food shortages, a deteriorating transport system, and 
church opposition-and more pertinent, a complete exclusion of the 
"main opposition" and massive state terror-but these didn't make it 
apparent to CBS News that a free and open election was not in the 
cards in that U.S. -sponsored election. 'o'' 

The Irish delegation and LASA, especially the latter, addressed these 
issues, gave evidence of having examined them seriously, and came up 
with conclusions sharply at odds with the U.S. government-media 
portrayals. LASA provided an extensive discussion of the Sandinista 
defense committees and the scope of the turbo, violence and interfer- 
ence with freedom of assembly, concluding that the total number of 
disruptive incidents reported was "quite small," and that the most 
serious occurred before the official campaign began. "In spite of Daniel 
Ortega's unfortunate statement on these disruptions, there is no evi- 
dence that the FSLN had a coherent strategy of stimulating or orches- 
trating them" (p. 24). As regards the defense committees, LASA 
concluded that they did not seem to be functioning as a spying network 
and that there was no serious evidence that they were a force making 
for intimidation (p. 27). LASA makes two additional points ignored by 
the free press. One is that the electoral commission "placed paid adver- 
tisements in the press urging citizens to respect the rights of all political 
parties to hold rallies without interference" (p. 24). The second is that 
the Cruz rallies that were disrupted were held in violation of the elec- 
toral law, which requires permits for campaign rallies and promises 
police protection. "In other words, given their decision not to register, 
Cniz and the Coordinadora were deliberately campaigning outside of 
the legal framework of protections which had been created by the 
electoral law" (p. 25). LASA also compares the violence in the Nicarag- 
uan election with that elsewhere in the area and in the Nicaraguan 
context, concluding that "compared to other nations in the region and 


in the face of a war against the contras, such abuses are on a very small 
scale" (p. 28). 

LASA also discussed freedom of the press, which it regards as one 
of the election's most troublesome features. It considers the imposition 
of press censorship to have been damaging to the election's quality and 
credibility, even though the argument of the Sandinistas, that a country 
at war "can't allow a newspaper which is the instrument of the enemy 
to publish its opinions freely" (Sergio Ramirez), is viewed as not wholly 
unreasonable. Nevertheless, while the censorship was also somewhat 
arbitrary and legahstic, LASA concluded that "The opposition could 
and did get its message out" (p. 26). And the finding overall was that 
the Nicaraguan election "by Latin American standards was a model of 
probity and fairness" (p. 32), 

The U.S. mass media did not concur, but it is striking how they avoid 
comparisons and data. The way in which the media can denounce 
restrictions on freedom of the press in Nicaragua after having totally 
ignored the question in El Salvador, where restrictions were far more 
severe, is remarkable. This process of dichotomization is so internalized 
that the writers use the double standard within the same article, appar- 
ently unaware of their own bias. In an article in the New York Times 
of March I2j 1984, "Clear Choices in Salvador, Murky Plans in Nicara- 
gua," Hedrick Smith regards the choices as "clear" in El Salvador, 
whereas in Nicaragua the problem is whether in an election the San- 
dinistas win "give up significant power and control." Multiple parties 
from the far right to the center-right in El Salvador demonstrate clear 
choices, but a variety of parties from right to far left in Nicaragua didn't 
cause Smith to perceive real choices there, although he didn't explain 
why. It apparently never occurs to Smith that there is an issue of 
whether the army and United States "will give up power and control" 
(and their determination to fight to victory) by the electoral route in El 

Are there essential freedoms and absence of coercion in El Salvador 
that are necessary for a truly free election? Hedrick Smith talks about 
substantive electoral conditions only in Nicaragua. He provides exten- 
sive detail on the trials of La Prensa, press censorship, the Sandinista 
monopoly of power, and limits allegedly imposed on opposition candi- 
dates in Nicaragua. Not a word, however, on death-squad and army 
murders of civilians in El Salvador or the Draconian laws of the state 
of siege. How many journalists have been killed in El Salvador? Papers 
closed? Radio stations blown up? Union leaders and political figures 
murdered? These questions are off the agenda in U.S. -staged elections, 
and Hedrick Smith ignores them. As a de facto spokesman for his 


government, the Times commentator uses doublethink with as much 
insouciance as Reagan and Shultz. 


To demonstrate more rigorously the structural bias in media coverage 
of Third World elections, tables 3-1, 3-2, and 3-3 compare the topics 
mentioned in the New York Times in its articles on the Nicaraguan and 
Salvadoran elections of 1984. The tables are organized according to the 
U.S. government agenda described earlier. The elements in the upper 
part ofthe tables are the approved issues-rebel disruption, personali- 
ties, election mechanics, etc. -that the government wishes to stress in 
its sponsored elections. Below the line are the basic conditions and 
other negative elements that are off the agenda in sponsored elections. 
Our hypothesis is that the media will follow the agenda, stressing 
personalities and other elements above the line in sponsored elections 
and playing down basic conditions, whereas in elections like that in 
Nicaragua the agenda wiU be reversed-the stress wiU be placed on 
basic conditions. 

Topics Included and Excluded in the 
New York Times 's Coverage 
of the Salvadoran Election 
of March 25, 1984* 

TABLE 3-1 




Those compatible with the 
U.S. government's agenda 
for the Salvadoran election: 

1. Democratic purpose and 


2. Rebel disruption 









Election mechanics 
Personalities and political 

Official reflections on the 
7. The army as protector of 
the election 





TboBt ixicompatible tbc 
U.S. goy«mm«nt'$ agenda 
for the Salvadoran election: 










The public-rdations 

U.S. investment in the 

Fraud in the 1982 dection 

The existence of free 
kpeech and assembly- 
legal state of siege 

Freedom of the press 

Organizational freedom 

Limits on the ability of 
candidates to qualify 
and campaign 

Prior state terror and 
climate of fear 

Power of armed forces, 
links to candidates and 
parties, as possible 
negative factor 

L«g3l obligation to vote 

L<ga1 penalties for 

Marking of voters' fingers 

Stamping identification 


L«g3l requirement that 
authorities check within 
10 days, that voters 
have voted 

Possible nonlegal threat 
to nonvoters from death 
squads and security 



















23. Use of transparent voting 1 3.6 


24. Legal right of tlie securiry O O 

forces to an armed 
presence at voting 

* Based on a study of the 28 articles on the EI Salvador election that appeared 
in the Neu York Times between Feb. I and Mar. 30, 1984. 

TABLE 3-2 

Topics Included and Excluded in the 

New York Times' s Coverage 
of the Nicaraguan Election 
Planneci for November 4, 1984* 



Tho«« compatible with the 
U.S. goTtnuneofs ageada 
for the Nicai^ajuan electlom 
(Of the 7 items in table 3-1, 
■n are blanks except one.) 

\. Election mechasics 

Those incompatible with the 
U.S. govenuQcat's agenda 
for the Nicara^uao 

2. The public-relations purpose 

3. Free speech 

4. Freedom of the press 

5. Organizational freedom 








6. Ability of candidates to 5 62.5 

qualify and niH 

7. Power of the armed forces, 3 37.5 

link to state, as negative 

* Based on a study of the 8 articles on the forthcoaiing Nicaraguan election 
that appeared in the .Vrai York Times between Feb. I and Mar. 30, 1984. 

** Many of the topics listed ia Table 3-1 under this subheading are not 
reltvant to the Nicaraguan election-all that are covered in the articles 
examined are listed here. 

TABLE 3-3 

Topics Included and Excluded in the 
New York Times ' s Coverage 
of the Nicaragiaan Election 
of November 4,1984* 



ThOM compatible with the 
U.S. govcmm^at's agenda 
for tie Nicaraguan election: 

L Democratic purpose and 


2. Rebel disruption 



3. Turnout 



4. Election mechanics 



5. Personalities and political 




6. Official reflections on the 




7. The army as protector of 



the election 





ThoM Incompatible with the 

U.S. government's ag«nda 
for the Nicaraguaa election; 

8. The publiC'r^latioDS 




9. Sandinista investment in 



the election 

10. Fraud in prior elections 



11. Free speech and assembly 



12. Freedom of the press 



13. Organizational freedom 



14. Limits on the ability of 



candidates to qualify 

and campaign 

15. Prior state terror and 


14 J 

climate of fear 

16. Control of armed forces 


by government 

17. Leja) obligation to vote 


18. Legal penalties for 




19. Marking of voters' fmgers 



20. Stamping identification 




21. L<gal requirement to check 




22. Nonlegal threat to 




23. Us« of transparent voting 



24. Security force presence at 



voting stations 

* Based on a study of 21 news articles appearing between Sept. 5 and Nov. 

6, 1984. 

NA = Not Applicable 

It can readily be seen in table 3-1 that in the Salvadoran election the 

Times's news coverage dealt heavily with subjects above the line and 
neglected the basic conditions that make an election meaningful in 



advance. We can observe how the Times totally ignores the question of 
freedom of the press, organizational freedom, and limits on the ability 
of candidates to run.ios Table 3-2 shows how the Times treated the 
forthcoming Nicaraguan election in the same two-month period cov- 
ered in table 3-1. It is evident that the paper focuses heavily on the 
fundamental conditions of a free election, i.e., on topics that it was 
entirely ignoring while addressing the Salvadoran election. Table 3-3 
shows the breakdown of topics covered by the Times during the Nica- 
raguan election later in the year. Again, although the differences are less 
marked than the ones in tables 3-1 and 3-2, the substantial attention to 
basic conditions in the Nicaraguan case is clear, reflecting editorial 
news choices that follow a patriotic agenda. As the basic conditions for 
a free election were superior in Nicaragua and the coercive elements 
less acute, the emphasis on basic conditions only in the Nicaraguan case 
is even more clearly evidence of systematic bias. 


As Newsweek pointed out on November 19, 1984, "The story of the 
freighter [to Nicaragua, allegedly carrying MIGs] first broke during the 
election-night coverage," but at no point does Newstoeek (or Time, the 
Times, or CBS News) suggest that the timing was deliberate. The Times, 
in its extensive coverage of the MIGs that weren't there, at one point 
quotes a Nicaraguan official who suggests that the crisis was purely a 
public-relations operation, but that exhausts the Times's exploration of 
this point. Although the MIGs weren't there, and the timing was per- 
fect for diverting attention from a successful election that the Reagan 
adminstration had been attempting to discredit, the ehte media asked 
no questions, even in retrospect. The administration claimed that when 
the freighter was loaded, satellite observation was blocked so that the 
cargo was unknown. The mass media presented this as fact, making no 
effort to evaluate the claim. 

What the media chose to focus on was administration assessments of 
what it mig ht do If MIGs were in fact being delivered. This allowed 
the whole frame of discourse to shift to the assumption that the Nica- 
raguans had done something (and something intolerable, to boot). 
Newsweek, in a retrospective article entitled "The MIGs That Weren't 
There," had a lead head: "To bring in high-performance craft indicates 



that they are contemplating being a threat to their neighbors." The fact 
that the MIGs u>eren*i brought ifl, as stared in the articJe's very rirle- 
that this was a concoction of U.S. officials-doesn't interfere with 
imputing an intention to the Nicaraguans based on a nonexistent fact. 
The assertion that they were contemplating being a threat, as opposed 
to defending themselves against a proxy invasion, is also a patriotic 
editorial judgment. Newsweek also says in the text that "All sides ap- 
peared to be playing a very clumsy and very dangerous game." This is 
an intriguing form of evenhandedness. A person who, admittedly, had 
been falsely accused of robbery by an assailant is alleged to be "playing 
a dangerous game," along with the attacker who is also the bearer of 
false witness. 

In the middle of an article on the Nicaraguan election. Time inserts 
the government claim that a ship carrying crates of the type used to 
transport MIG-2Is was due at a Nicaraguan port. Time never questions 
a government propaganda ploy, no matter how blatant, and it offers a 
retrospective only when the government tacitly concedes it had deliber- 
ately deceived. Like Newsweek and the TimeSt Time allows the govern- 
ment to set the agenda with a public-relations statement: If the 
Nicaraguans did this, it would be a challenge to the United States. How 
then would we react, what are our policy options, etc. The truth of the 
claim and the likelihood that this is a manipulative ploy to help remove 
the unwanted elections from attention are not discussed; and, naturally, 
the fact that this is part of a policy of aggression against a tiny victim 
is never raised. 

The only credits in the media coverage of the MIG crisis go to CBS 
News. On November 6, Dan Rather gave the straight administration 
"news" that MIGs might be on their way and that a strategic option 
to destroy them was under consideration. On November 7 and 8, how- 
ever, perhaps out of a recognition that it had once again been "used," 
CBS gave substantial coverage to Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel 
D'Escoto's rebuttal, which allowed him to point out the absurdity of 
the Nicaraguan "threat," the tie-in of the MIG claims to the Nicarag- 
uan election, and the U.S. refusal to go along with the Contadora peace 

The MIG ploy was, nevertheless, entirely successful. Atone of crisis 
was manufactured, and "options" against the hypothetical Sandinista 
"threat" were placed at the center of public attention. The Nicaraguan 
c\ection was nor discussed. LASA points out that "The final results of 
Nicaragua's election were not even reported by most of the interna- 
tional media. They were literally buried under an avalanche of alarmist 
news reports" (p. 31). LASA concludes that the Nicaraguan electoral 


process was manipulated, as the U.S. government claims, but by the 
U.S. government itself in its efforts to discredit an election that it did 
not want to take place. The Salvadoran and Guatemalan elections 
successfully legitimized the U.S. -backed regimes, at least for American 
elite opinion. The far more honest Nicaraguan election failed to accom- 
plish this, thanks to the loyal service of the media. 


Official observers provide a perfect example of the use of government- 
controlled "experts" and "pseudo-events" to attract media attention 
and channel it in the direction of the propaganda line. And they regu- 
larly succeed in doing this in demonstration elections, no matter how 
brief their stay and foolish their comments (see appendix I). The media 
take it for granted that official observers are newsworthy: they are 
notables, their selection by the government from "reputable" institu- 
tions adds to their credibility, and their observations will have effects 
on opinion and pohcy. This rationale is in the nature of a self-fulfilling 
prophecy; they have effects only because the media accord them atten- 
tion. As the official observers reliably commend the elections as fair 
without the slightest attention to basic conditions, the media's regular 
use of these observers for comments on election quality violates norms 
of substantive objectivity in the same manner as the use of any straight 
government handout by the Times or Pravda. no 

The Nicaraguan election was remarkable for the number of foreign 
observers and observer teams. We pointed out earlier that Time men- 
tioned 450 foreign observers, but the magazine failed to cite anyone 
of them (relying instead, and characteristically, on State Department 
handouts). As we saw, the State Department was able to get the media 
to follow its agenda, even though this involved them in a blatant rever- 
sal of the criteria they had employed the same year in EI Salvador and 
Guatemala. It was also able to induce the media to disregard the out- 
come of the Nicaraguan election, with the help of the diversionary 
MIG ploy. The media also allowed major lies to be institutionalized- 
for example, that coercion was greater and pluralistic choices less in the 
Nicaraguan than in the Salvadoran and Guatemalan elections, and that 



the latter were legitimizing in a substantive sense, in contrast with 

These propaganda lies could not have been perpetrated if such re- 
ports as those of the Irish delegation and LASA had been accorded 
proper weight. LASA actually contacted the major mass-media outlets 
and tried to interest them in doing a story on their report. LASA was 
turned down by every major outlet. The LASA report is probably the 
best-documented and most closely reasoned observer report ever writ- 
ten. Its authors are far and away the most qualified group ever to write 
such a report, half with field experience in Nicaragua, and the docu- 
ment was an official report of the major scholarly organization that 
deals with Central America. The authors represent a variety of opin- 
ions, on balance liberal but revealing a strong critical capability (and 
i n no sense biased, as are the official observer teams to whom the media 
accord much attention). Their report covers every issue of importance 
and openly confronts and weighs evidence. If one reads the LASA 
report, and then the accounts of the Nicaraguan election in Time, 
Newstoeekf and the New York Times, it is not so much the difference in 
conclusions that is striking but the difference in depth, balance, and 
objectivity. LASA offers serious history and context, a full account of 
the organization of the election, and a full discussion of each relevant 
issue with comparisons to other elections. We believe that an important 
reason the mass media failed to use LASA as a source of information 
was that its report contradicts in every way the propaganda claims 
which the media were disseminating daily and uncritically. Thus its 
very credibility, objectivity, and quality were disturbing, and neces- 
sitated that it be bypassed by institutions serving a propaganda func- 


As we have seen, electoral conditions in Nicaragua in 1984 were far 
more favorable than in EI Salvador and Guatemala, and the observer 
team of LASA found the election in Nicaragua to have been "a model 
ofprobity and fairness" by Latin American standards. In El Salvador 
and Guatemala, none of the five basic preconditions of a free election 
was met. In both of these countries, state-sponsored terror, including 
the public exposure of mutilated bodies, had ravaged the civilian popu- 
lation up to the very day of the elections. In both, voting was required 
by law, and the populace was obliged to have ID cards signed, testifying 


As we Stressed earlier, the media's adherence to the state propaganda 
line is extremely functional. Just as the government of Guatemala could 
kill scores of thousands without major repercussion because the media 
recognized that these were "unworthy" victims, so today aid to state 
terrorists in El Salvador and Guatemala, and the funding of contra 
attacks on "soft targets" in Nicaragua, depend heavily on continued 
media recognition of "worth" and an appropriate legitimization and 
delegitimization. As their government sponsors terror in all three states 
(as well as in Honduras), we may fairly say that the U.S. mass media, 
despite their righteous self-image as opponents of something called 
terrorism, serve in fact as loyal agents of terrorism. 

% ff 

The KGB-Bulgarian 
Plot to Kill 
the Pope: 

Free-Market Disinformation 
as "News" 

uan elections, the government was the moving force in providing the 
suitable frames of analysis and relevant facts, with the mass media's role 
mainly that of channeling information and assuring that the govern- 
ment's agenda was not seriously challenged. With the shooting of the 
pope, in May 1981, and the eventual charges of a KGB-Bulgarian plot, 
the mass media played a much larger role in originating the claims and 
in keeping the pot boiling from inception to conclusion of the case. ^ 
In many ways, however, the process was similar. A dominant frame 
was eventually produced that interpreted the shooting of the pope in 
a manner especially helpful to then-current elite demands. A campaign 
quickly ensued in which the serviceable propaganda line was instilled 
in the public mind by repetition. Alternative frames were ignored, and 
sources inclined toward other ways of looking at the issue were ex- 
cluded from the mass media. Facts were selected that fit the dominant 
frame; others were passed by even if they bore on the validity of its 
premises. 2 At the same time, the dominant sources, who had been 


allowed to monopolize mass-media space, complained bitterly that their 
voices could not be heard over the din of Soviet propaganda. When the 
legal proceeding brought against the Bulgarians in Italy was lost after 
a lengthy trial, this was rationalized by the media as far as could be 
done. No serious retrospectives were entertained) and, without resolv- 
ing the contradictions) the story was then dropped. 

What makes the Bulgarian Connection so apt an illustration of the 
value of a propaganda model is that there was no credible case for a 
Bulgarian Connection from the very beginning) and long before the 
Rome trial it had taken on a truly comic aspect. But the mass media 
played it straight to the bitter end. An analogous sequence carried out 
in Moscow, with the West as the target-with a half-crazed criminal) 
after seventeen months in a Soviet prison and some friendly sessions 
with the KGB and a prosecutor) implicating employees ofthe American 
embassy in a conspiracy to murder, and subsequently changing his 
testimony on a daily basis- would have been hooted off the stage in the 
West without anyone even bothering to look at alleged evidence. The 
Bulgarian Connection) however, although no less absurd, met the crite- 
rion of utility. 

The case began when Mehmet Ali Agca shot and seriously injured 
Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981. Agca was a 
Turkish rightist and assassin long associated with the Gray Wolves, an 
affiliate of the extreme right-wing Nationalist Action party. Initial 
Western news reports pointed out that Agca was a wanted criminal who 
had escaped from a Turkish prison in 1979, and that his durable politi- 
cal affiliations had been with the Fascist right. His motives in shooting 
the pope were unclear. Agca's friends were violently anti-Communist, 
so that, at first, pinning the crime on the East seemed unpromising. 

Two factors allowed a KGB-Bulgarian plot to be developed. The 
first was that in his travels through Europe in the Gray Wolves under- 
ground, which carried him through twelve different countries, Agca had 
stayed for a period in Bulgaria. Turkish drug dealers, who had connec- 
tjons with the Gray Wolves, also participated in the drug trade in 
Bulgaria. There were, therefore, some "links" between Agca and Bul- 
garians) minimal facts that would eventually be put to good use. 

The second factor was Western elite needs and the closely associated 
flare-up of a carefully stoked anti-Communist fervor in the West. At 
the first meeting of the Jonathan Institute, in Jerusalem, in July 1979, 
at which a large Western political and media contingent were present 
(including Claire Sterling, George Will, George Bush, and Robert 
Moss),3 the main theme pressed by Israeli Prime Minister Menahem 
Begin in his opening address, and by many others at the conference, was 


the importance and utility of pressing tiie terrorism issue and of tying 
terrorism to the Soviet Union/ Claire Sterling did this in her 19S1 
volume The Terror Nelworkt which became the bible of the Reagan 
administration and the international right wing, and elevated Sterling 
to the status of number one mass-media expert on that subject. Terror- 
ism and Soviet evil were the centerpieces of the Reagan administra- 
tion's propaganda campaign that began in 1981, designed to support its 
planned arms increase, placement of new missiles in Europe, and inter- 
ventionist policies in the Third World. Thus the shooting of the pope 
by Agca in May 1981 occurred at a time when important Western 
interests were looking for ways to tie the Soviet Union to "international 
terrorism. "5 


Although the initial media reaction to the shooting was that the roots 
of the act would seem to lie in Turkish right-wing ideology and politics, 
some rightists immediately seized the opportunity to locate the origins 
of the plot in the Soviet bloc. Only six days after the assassination 
attempt, the Italian secret-service organization SISMI issued a docu- 
ment which claimed that the attack had been announced by a Soviet 
official at a meeting of the Warsaw Pact powers in Bucharest, Romania, 
and that Agca had been trained in the Soviet Union. Subsequently, this 
"infonnation" was shown to have been fabricated by SI5MI or one of 
its intelligence sources, but it entered the stream of allegations about 
the plot in a book published in West Germany and via further citations 
and leaks. 6 

The Reader's Digest saw the propaganda opportunity presented by 
the assassination attempt quite early, and hired both Paul Henze, a 
longtime CIA officer and propaganda specialist, and Claire Sterling to 
investigate the topic. Sterling's September 1982 article in the Reader's 
Digest, "The Plot to Kill the Pope," was the most important initiator 
of the Bulgarian Connection, and its ideas and those of Paul Henze 
fonned the basis for the NBC-TV program "The Man Who Shot the 
Pope -A Study in Terrorism," narrated by Marvin Kalb and first aired 
on September 21, 1982. 

The Sterling-Henze-Kalb (SHK) model, in which Agca was an agent 
of the Bulgarians (and, indirectly, of the Soviet Union), quickly became 


the dominant frame of the mass media, through the great outreach of 
the Reader's Digest and the NBC-TV program (which was repeated in 
revised form in January 1983), and the ready, even eager, acceptance of 
this view by the other mainstream media. ^ The mass media in our 
sample-Newsweek, Time, the New York Times, and CBS News-all 
accepted and used the SHK model from the beginning, and retained 
that loyalty to the end of the Rome trial in March 1986. In the process 
they excluded alternative views and a great deal of inconvenient fact. 
Wiihihe Reader's Digest, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science 
MonilOTi and NBC-TV also firmly adhering to the SHK line, it quickly 
established a dominant position throughout the mainstream media. 

In the balance of this and the following two sections, we will describe 
the SHK model, discuss its weaknesses, and outline an alternative 
frame explaining Agca's confession implicating the Bulgarians, which 
the media ignored. We will then turn to a closer examination of the 
media's gullible reception of the SHK view and its fit to a propaganda 

The SHK model had the following essential elements: 

1. Motive. In Sterling's Reader's Digest article, the preeminent motive 
in the assassination attempt was a Soviet desire to weaken NATO, to 
be accomplished by implicating a Turk in the assassination of the pope: 
"The Turk was there at St. Peter's to signal Christendom that Islamic 
Turkey was an ahen and vaguely sinister country that did not belong 
in NATO." This motive was accompanied (and soon supplanted) by the 
contention that the shooting was to help quell the Solidarity movement 
in Poland by removing its most important supporter. At one point Paul 
Henze suggested that the intent of the KGB was perhaps merely to 
"wing" the pope, not kill him, as a warning, as in a James Bond movie. 
The costs and risks to the Soviet bloc of such a venture were never 
discussed by Sterling, Henze, or Kalb. 

2. The proof of Soviet and Bulgarian involvement. Before Agca's 
confession and his identification of Bulgarians in November 1982, the 
evidence on which SHK relied was confined to the fact that Agca had 
stayed in Bulgaria in the summer of 1980, and that Turkish drug traders 
with links to the Gray Wolves did business in Bulgaria. In November 
1982, Agca named three Bulgarians as his alleged accomplices and 
claimed to have been hired by the Bulgarians to do the job. He offered 
no credible evidence and named no witnesses to any dealings with 
Bulgarians, so that the new "evidence" was simply Agca's assertions, 
after seventeen months in an Italian prison. 


3. The ideological assumptions. As the case looked extremely thin, 

especially before Agca's new confession of November 1982, the gaps 
were filled by ideological assumptions: This is the kind of thing the 
Soviets do. The Soviet Union and Bulgaria have been actively striving 
to "destabilize" Turkey.a If there is no hard evidence it is because the 
Soviets are consummate professionals who cover their tracks and main- 
tain "plausible deniability." The KGB hired Agca in Turkey and caused 
him to use a rightist cover to obscure the fact that he was a KGB agent. 
Although Agca traveled through eleven other countries, his stay in 
Bulgaria was crucial because Bulgaria is a totalitarian state and the 
police know everything; therefore they knew who Agca was, and they 
must have been using him for their own purposes.' 


The basic Sterling-Henze-Kalb model suffered from a complete ab- 
sence of credible evidence, a reliance on ideological premises, and 
internal inconsistencies. As problems arose, the grounds were shifted, 
sometimes with a complete reversal of argument. '° 

An initial problem for the model was the Bulgarian-Soviet motive. 
In this connection, we should note the extreme foolishness of Sterling's 
original suggestion that the Eastern bloc went to the trouble of locating 
a Turkish Fascist to shoot the pope in order to make Turkey look bad, 
and thereby to loosen its ties to NATO. That such a loosened tie would 
follow from a Turkish Fascist shooting the pope is not sensible, nor is 
it likely that the conservative Soviet leadership would indulge in such 
a fanciful plan even if it had a greater probability of "success. "11 This 
theory assumed that Agca would be caught and identified as a Turk, 
but that he wouldn't reveal that he had been hired by the Bulgarians 
and the Soviets. Subsequently, Sterling suggested that Agca was sup- 
posed to have been shot in the square to assure his silence. The amaz- 
ingly incompetent KGB failed to accomplish this simple task. SHK also 
maintained at various points that Agca may not even have known who 
hired him, so he couldn't implicate the East. Later, when Agca claimed 
that he had been heavily involved with Bulgarians in Rome, Sterling 
and Henze lapsed into silence on the failure of the KGB to maintain 
a semblance of plausible deniability. 


SHK finally settled firmly on the idea that quelling the Polish Soli- 
darity movement was the real Soviet-Bulgarian motive. But this theory 
is as implausible as its predecessor, when we take account of timing and 
elementary cost-benefit analysis. Agca was allegedly recruited in Tur- 
key long before Solidarity existed. In a variant Sterling version of the 
timing of his recruitment, Agca was hired by the Bulgarians in July 1980, 
which was still prior to the Gdansk shipyard strike, and thus before 
Solidarity appeared a credible threat to Soviet control. The risks and 
costs of an assassination attempt would seem heavy-and, in fact, the 
costs to the Soviet Union and Bulgaria were severe based merely on the 
widespread belief in their involvement, even in the absence of credible 
evidence. The supposed benefits from the act are also not plausible. 
The assassination of the pope, especially ifblamed on the Soviet Union, 
would infuriate and unify the Poles and strengthen their opposition to 
a Soviet-dominated regime. And the further costs in damaged relations 
with Western Europe-which were extremely important to the Soviet 
Union in 1981, with the gas pipeline being negotiated and with the 
placement of new U.S. missiles in Western Europe a major Soviet 
concern-would seem to militate against taking foolish riskS. 

A second problem with the SHK model is that Agca had threatened 
to kiU the pope in 1979 at the time of a papal visit to Turkey-again, 
long before Solidarity existed. This suggests that Agca and the Turkish 
right had their own grievances against the pope and a rationale for 
assassinating him that was independent of any Soviet influence. It was 
partly for this reason that SHK argue that Agca was recruited by the 
Soviet Union in Turkey before the pope's visit there, setting him up for 
the later attack. But not only is this pure speculation unsupported by 
a trace of evidence, it fails to explain why the entire Fascist press, not 
just Agca, assailed the pope's visit in 1979. Was the entire Fascist right 
serving Soviet ends? The only time this issue was ever raised in the mass 
media, on the "McNeil-Lehrer News Hour" of January 5, 1983, Paul 
Henze stated in no uncertain terms that "there was no [press] opposi- 
tion" to the pope's visit in 1979. The Turkish journalist Ugur Mumcu, 
however, assembled a large collection of citations from the Turkish 
rightist press of the time to demonstrate that Henze's statement was 
false. '3 

A third problem for the SHK model was that Agca was a committed 
rightist, and therefore not a likely candidate for service to the Commu- 
nist powers (although perhaps amenable to fingering them as co-con- 
spirators in a prison context). SHK strove mightily to make Agca out 
to be a rootless mercenary, but the best they could come up with was 


the fact that Agca didn't seem to have been registered as a member of 
the Gray Wolves, u But all his friends, associates, and affiliations from 
high school days onward were Gray Wolves, and in his travels through 
Europe up to the time of his May 13, IgSl, rendezvous, he moved solely 
through the Gray Wolves network. While in prison, Agca addressed a 
letter to Alparslan Turkes, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party 
of Turkey, expressing his continued commitment and loyalty. This 
letter was bothersome to Sterling and Henze as it is inconsistent with 
their depiction of Agca as apolitical, and Sterling dismissed it without 
argument as a "laughably clumsy forgery." A problem, however, is that 
Agca's letter was introduced as evidence in a trial in Ankara by the 
Turkish military authorities, usually adequate proof for Sterling of 
authenticity. She doesn't mention this fact or examine their case. Ugur 
Mumcu devotes five pages of his book Agca Dossier to a detailed ac- 
count of the Turkes letter, describing the great pains the authorities 
took, including tapping outside experts, to establish its authenticity. 
The conclusion on all sides was that the letter was genuine. 

A fourth problem with the SHK model is the notion that because of 
the efficiency of the Bulgarian secret police, Agca's presence in Sofia 
must have been known to them, and he must therefore have been on 
their payroll. This assumed efficiency is an ideological assumption un- 
supported by any evidence and contradicted by actual Bulgarian and 
Soviet performance. There is no evidence that the Bulgarians ever 
identified Agca, who was using a false passport. Furthermore, the con- 
tention that the Bulgarian police know everything was refuted in impor- 
tant testimony during the Rome trial on September 22, Ig85, when Gray 
Wolves official Abdullah Catli stated that many Gray Wolves preferred 
to traverse Bulgaria because it was easy to hide in the large flow of 
Turkish immigrant traffic through that country. 

A fifth problem for the SHK model was the fact that Agca seems to 
have gotten his gun through the Gray Wolves network, not from the 
Bulgarians, who presumably could have slipped it to him quite easily 
in Rome. In her Reader's Digesl article. Sterling traced Agca's gun to 
Horst Grillmaier, an Austrian gun dealer who, according to Sterling, 
had fled behind the Iron Curtain after May 13, IgSl, to avoid question- 
ing in the West. It turned out later, however, that Grillmaier was a 
former Nazi who specialized in supplying right-wing gun buyers; that 
he had not disappeared behind the Iron Curtain at all; and that the gun 
had proceeded through a number of intermediaries, to be transmitted 
to Agca by a Gray Wolves friend. Sterling handles the disintegration 
ofthe original Grillmaier line by simply shifting to a new conspiratorial 


ground: the clever Bulgarians had Agca purchase a gun through a 
known Fascist to strengthen the case that Agca was a right-winger who 
could not possibly be connected to the Communist powers. 

A final set of problems for the SHK model lies in the extraordinary 
level of incompetence and gross violations of the principles of plausible 
deniability that it attributes to the Bulgarian and Soviet secret police- 
features that coexist uneasily with the superspy image invoked else- 
where in the model. At various points, SHK contended that the Soviets 
and Bulgarians were professionals who could afford to go after the pope 
because they would never be implicated themselves. But hiring Agca, 
a wanted criminal and a mentally unbalanced rightist, would appear 
extremely foolish, as the cover would quickly be blown in the hkely 
event that he was caught. In Sterling's initial tale, the KGB wanted him 
to be caught--or at least to have his body identified-to discredit 
Turkey. With the shift to weakening Solidarity as the motive, the threat 
of disclosure of Bulgarian-Soviet involvement would seem very serious. 
Yet the Bulgarians and KGB hired Agca and then failed to kill him. 
Another anomaly was bringing Agca to Sofia for instructions. If he had 
already been recruited in Turkey, wouldn't bringing him to Sofia be a 
foolish compromising of his carefully prepared "cover"? If so, doesn't 
his visit to Sofia constitute an argument against Soviet and Bulgarian 

While Agca's November 1982 confession that he had Bulgarian co- 
conspirators made the Bulgarian Connection instantly "true" for the 
Western media, it wreaked havoc with the SHK model and with the 
logic of "plausible deniability." If, as Agca confessed, the Bulgarians 
connived with him in Rome, escorted him to St. Peter's Square to plan 
the attack, entertained him at their apartments, and participated in the 
attack itself, what happens to the logic of the "cover"? 


An alternative explanation of the Bulgarian Connection can be derived 
from the questions the U.S. press would surely have raised if an analo- 
gous scenario had occurred in Moscow, in which Agca, who had briefly 
visited the United States on his travels, and has been in a Soviet prison 
for seventeen months after having shot a high Soviet official, now 
confesses that three U.S. embassy members were his co-conspirators. 
In this case, the U.S. press would have paid close attention to the 
convenience of the confession to Soviet propaganda needs, to the sev- 


enteen-month delay in the naming of Americans, and to the obvious 
possibility that Agca had been encouraged or coerced into revising his 
story. They would have focused intently on Agca's prison conditions, 
his visitors there, his amenability to a "deal" with his captors, and any 
evidence in his statements or from other sources that he had been 
coached. The fact that Agca had visited the United States, among 
twelve countries, would not be considered strong evidence of CIA 
involvement, and the press might even have pointed out that a mini- 
mally competent CIA would not have brought Agca to Washington for 
instructions in the first place. 

The alternative model would take the same fact that SHK start out 
with-Agca's stay in Sofia, Bulgaria-but interpret it differently. That 
visit violates principles of plausible deniability and would be especially 
foolish if the KGB had already recruited Agca in Turkey. On the other 
hand, it provides a Western propaganda system with the necessary tie 
between Agca's terrorist attack in Rome and the Soviet bloc. The 
convenience of Agca's confession-to Socialist leader Craxi, to the 
Christian Democrats and neo-Fascists in Italy, and to Reagan searching 
for a tie-in between "international terrorism" and the Soviet Union-is 
also crystal clear, and would immediately suggest to an objective press 
the possibility that this "demand" might have elicited an appropriate 
"supply" from the imprisoned Agca. The lag in Agca's naming of any 
Bulgarians-seventeen months after he entered an Italian prison and 
seven months after he had agreed to "cooperate" with the investigating 
magistrate, Hario Martella-is also highly suggestive. Why did it take 
him so long to name his co-conspirators? Sterling tried to explain this 
on the ground that Agca had hopes that the Bulgarians would "spring 
him" and gave them time; his successive elaborations of claims and 
subsequent retractions she explained in terms of Agca's "signaling" to 
his alleged partners. This complex and speculative attempt to rational- 
ize inconvenient facts is not necessary; a very straightforward explana- 
tion based on Agca's character and affiliations and the inducements 
known to have been offered to him (described below) does quite 
nicely. Is Furthermore, Sterling's explanation does not account for the 
fact that Agca failed to provide serious evidence late in the trial, long 
after it was clear that the Bulgarians had not responded to his alleged 

Another suggestive feature of Agca's confession is that it/ollowed the 
creation and wide media distribution of the SHK model. During the 
course of the investigation of the plot, it was revealed that the impris- 
oned Agca had access to newspapers, radio, and television, among other 
modes of personal communication with the outside world. It was also 


brought out in the investigation that Agca's "desire for personal public- 
ity seems unquenchable .At one point in the Italian investigation, 

he abruptly clammed up when the magistrates refused his demand that 
journalists be present as he 'confessed.' •• le Agca was interrogated about 
a possible Bulgarian connection long before his confession, and was 
surely aware that his interrogators would be quite pleased to have him 
produce one. And by the fall of 1982 one was being provided to him in 
the press and on the screen every day. 

We mentioned earlier that the Italian secret-service agency 81 SMI 
had actually distributed a piece of disinformation tying the Soviets to 
the assassination attempt within days of the attack. At the time of the 
shooting, 8ISMI was headed by General Giuseppe 8antovito, a mem- 
ber of the extreme right-wing organization Propaganda Due (P-2), and 
SISMI and the other intelligence agencies were heavily infiltrated with 
P-2 members. A P-2 scandal broke in Italy in March 1981, and by 
August 8antovito had been forced to leave 8 1 SMI, but the rightist grip 
on this organization was by no means broken. 

An important feature of Italian politics in the period from 1966 
through 1981 was the protection given by the intelligence services to 
right-wing terror, under a program designated the "strategy of ten- 
sion." 17 One aspect of this strategy was the carrying out of right-wing 
terrorist attacks, which were then attributed to the left, frequently with 
[he help of forged documents and planted informers committing per- 
jury. The point ofthe strategy was to polarize society, discredit the left, 
and set the stage for a rightist coup. Many P-2 members in the armed 
forces and intelligence services took part in implementing this program, 
and many others were sympathetic to its aims. In July 1984, an Italian 
parliamentary commission published its final report on the P-2 conspir- 
acy, and it and its accompanying volumes of hearings pointed up the 
politicization of the intelligence services, their frequent use of tech- 
niques of disinformation, and their connivance with and protection of 
right-wing terror. In July 1985 a Bologna court issued a decision in 
which it named 818M1 and its officers as having engaged in numerous 
forgeries, and also in having collaborated in covering up the Bologna 
terrorist bombing of 1980.18 

818MI participated in a five-hour interrogation of Agca in December 
1981, exploring his link to "international terrorism." Investigating Judge 
Martella acknowledges in his long investigative report that he had 
spoken to Agca about the possibility of a commuted sentence if he 
"cooperated," and the Italian press quoted Agca's lawyer's report ofthe 
terms of proposed deals that had been offered to Agca. There were 
also a variety of reports in the European and dissident media of pres- 


sures applied to Agca while in prison. A London Sunday Times team 
pointed out in May 1983 that the secret services "visited Agca and 
warned him that once liis solitary confinement was over, 'the authorities 
could no longer guarantee his safety.' "20 According to Orsen Oymen, 
a Turkish expert on the case, the Catholic chaplain in Agca's prison. 
Father Mariano Santini, had frequent access to Agca and was one of 
those who pressed him to cooperate with the authorities.^' There is 
some possible confirmation of Santini's pressure tactics in a letter which 
Agca addressed to the Vatican, dated September 24, 1982, which com- 
plained bitterly of threats to his life emanating from a Vatican emissary. 

During the course of the Rome trial, Giovanni Pandico, the principal 
Italian state witness in the trial of Mafia leaders in Naples and an 
associate of Raphael Cutaia, a Mafia leader who had been in Ascoli 
Piceno prison with Agca, claimed in an interview (and subsequently 
before the court) that Agca had been coerced, persuaded and coached 
to implicate the Bulgarians by Cutolo, Santini, and others. Pandico 
claimed that Cutaia himself had been coerced into working on Agca by 
threats to himself, and that former SISMI officials Giuseppi Musumeci 
and Francesco Pazienza were key initiators of the plot. One of the 
important individuals accused by Pandico, Francesco Pazienza, while 
denying the charges, gave his own detailed account of who in SISMI 
had participated in persuading Agca to talk. 

From the inception of the case, there were points suggesting that 
Agca was coached while in prison. After his long (and unexplained) 
silence, Agca identified the Bulgarians in a photo album allegedly 
shown to him for the first time on November 9, 1982. But in a speech 
before the Italian parliament, the minister of defense, Lelio Lagorio, 
stated that Agca had identified the Bulgarians in September of 1982. 
This discrepancy has never been explained, but that Agca saw these 
photos for the first time on November 9 is not believable.^^ A key 
element in Agca's testimony was his claim to have visited the apartment 
of Sergei Antonov, one of the Bulgarians arrested in the "plot," and to 
have met his wife and daughter, which was supported by many fine 
details regarding Antonov's hobbies and the characteristics of his apart- 
ment. The defense, however, was able to show that one feature of 
Antonov's apartment mentioned by Agca was in error, although charac- 
teristic of the other apartments in Antonov's building, which suggests 
that Agca had been supplied information based on observation of other 
apartments. More important, the defense was able to establish that at 
the time of Agca's visit at which he met Mrs. Antonov, she was out of 
the country. Following newspaper publicity given these defense con- 
tentions, on June 28, 1983, Agca retracted his claims that he had visited 


the apartment and met Antonov's family. The details he had given 
about apartment and family then became inexplicable, except on the 
supposition that Agca had been fed information while in prison. In a 
number of other instances Agca provided information that bore strong 
suspicion of having been provided by officials and agents of the court 
or the police. The London Sunday Times reporters, who interviewed 
one of the accused Bulgarians in Sofia, wrote that "When asked by 
Martella in Bulgaria whether he had any salient physical features, 
Vassilev said that he had a mole on his left cheek. In a subsequent 
confession, as Vassilev points out, Agca described my mole in the very 
same words which I used in describing it here.' "2* 

During the course of the Rome trial in 1985-86, no trace was ever 
found of the money that Agca claimed he had received from the Bul- 
garians. The car that Agca indicated the Bulgarians had used to escort 
him around Rome was never located. No witness was ever found who 
saw him in his many supposed encounters with Bulgarians. His gun was 
transferred to him through the Turkish Gray Wolves network, and 
there was no shortage of evidence of his meetings with members of the 
Gray Wolves in Western Europe. The note that was found on Agca's 
person on May 13, 1981, did not mention any collaborators, and sug- 
gested a loose timetable for the assassination attempt and a planned 
railroad trip to Naples. 

In sum, it is highly probable that Agca was offered a deal to talk, and 
that it was made clear to him that the people with power over his 
well-being wanted him to implicate the Bulgarians and the Soviet 
Union in the assassination attempt. He had access to the SHK model 
even before he confessed. His confession was therefore suspect from 
the start, and an "alternative model" of inducement-pressure coaching 
was plausible and relevant, from the Agca's first implication of Bulgari- 
ans. This model became more cogent over time as Agca retracted 
strategic claims, and as no confirming evidence of a Bulgarian Connec- 
tion was produced. By the same token, the SHK model, implausible 
from the beginning, became even less tenable. 


Despite the implausibility of the SHK claim that Agca had been hired 
by the Bulgarians and the KGB to shoot the pope, and although it was 


sustained by argument that amounted to sheer humbuggery, the Bul- 
garian Connection met the standard of utility. In this case, therefore, 
as a propaganda model would anticipate, the U.S. mass media accepted 
the SHK model as valid, ignored the alternative model, and par- 
ticipated in a classic propaganda campaign that got the message of 
Bulgarian-Soviet guilt over to the public. Some members of the mass 
media helped originate the claim of a Bulgarian Connection, while 
others participated only in disseminating the SHK line (and excluding 
alternative views and inconvenient information). 

The campaign began with Sterling's Reader's Digest article of Sep- 
tember 1982, which was closely followed by the NBC-TV program of 
September 21, 1982. The outreach of these two statements asserting a 
Bulgarian Connection was great, and they were widely reported upon 
in the rest of the media in the form of a summary of their claims, with 
virtually no questions raised about their validity. With Agca's Novem- 
ber 1982 naming of Bulgarians, the mass media began to report the 
Bulgarian Connection intensively. This reporting was carried out ex- 
clusively within the frame of the SHK model, and for most of the mass 
media no serious departures from this model occurred through the 
conclusion of the Rome trial in March 1986.24 

Agca's naming of the Bulgarians was the key fact that generated news 
coverage, providing the basis for reiterated details about the Bulgarians, 
explanations of the Bulgarian (and Soviet) motive, and speculation 
about the political implications of the charges, if confirmed. A major 
characteristic of these news reports was their sheer superficiality, with 
the charges never seriously examined but merely regurgitated and 
elaborated with odd facts and opinion, and with no departures from the 
SHK frame (and no hints of the possible relevance of an alternative 
frame). The charges constituted a form of vindication of the SHK 
model if taken at face value and presented superficially-i.e., if the 
media presentations never considered political convenience, prison 
conditions, possible deals, plausible deniability, etc. And this proce- 
dure-a reiteration of Agca claims, supplemented by extremely super- 
ficial pro-plot speculation-was the principal modality by which the 
mass media accepted and pushed the propaganda line. 

Newsweek provides a prototype of news coverage within the SHK 
framework in its article of January 3, 1983, "The Plot to Kill Pope John 
Paul II." The Bulgarian-Soviet motive as portrayed by SHK is reite- 
rated through quotes from congenial sources-"a precautionary and 
alternative solution to the invasion of Poland" -while nobody is quoted 
discussing costs and benefits, the nature of the Soviet leadership, or 
Western benefits from Agca's confession. f^ct, Newsweek suggests 


that this charging of the Soviet bloc with the assassination attempt is 
a painful embarrassment to Western governments (parroting the SHK 
Hne on this point). Newsweek nowhere discusses the seventeen-month 
lag in Agca's confession or liis prison conditions, nor does it report in 
this (or any later) article the claims and information noted in the 
London Sunday Times and the Italian press about inducements or 
coercive threats that might have been applied to Agca while in custody. 

Agca's evidence is given credibility by Newsweek through several 
devices: repeating his claims several times as the core of the story; 
stressing in two separate sequences investigative judge Martella's al- 
leged honesty, integrity, conscientiousness, etc.; quoting from Italian 
officials who say they "have the evidence" that "Agca operated in close 
contact with the Bulgarians"; asserting that "all the evidence suggests" 
that Agca is "not crazy." But most important is the previously men- 
tioned refusal to discuss the premises of the SHK framework or to use 
an alternative frame. 

Newsweek swallows intact a series of SHK ideological assumptions, 
such as that "investigators [read "Paul Henze"] now think" Agca was 
probably using the Gray Wolves as a cover; Bulgaria and the Soviet 
Union have long been trying "to destabilize Turkey through terrorism" 
(quoting Henze directly); in Sofia, Agca's presence "must have come 
to the attention of the Bulgarian secret police" (duplicating the fre- 
quent SHK error of forgetting their claim that Agca had already been 
recruited for the papal assassination attempt in Turkey, as well as 
erroneously assuming that the Bulgarian secret police can easily iden- 
tify Turks passing through their country). Newsweek states as estab- 
lished fact that "Agca had help from a huge set of Bulgarians," although 
it provides no evidence for this except assertions by Agca, Italian 
officials, and Paul Henze. It reports Agca's numerous transactions with 
Bulgarians in Rome without mentioning the problem of plausible deni- 
ability and without batting an eyelash at the sheer foolishness of the 
scenario. Thh Newsweek article is nonetheless powerful, with its reiter- 
ation of many details, its confidently asserted pJots and subplots, its 
quotes from many authorities supporting the charges, and its seeming 
openness and occasional mention of lack of full proof-but it is apiece 
of uncritical propaganda that confines itself strictly within the SHK 
frame, with the exception of the single phrase cited earlier. 

Initially, the other major media performed quite uniformly in the 
same mold-uncritical, trivial, working solely within the bounds of the 
SHK model, and entirely bypassing all the hard but obvious questions 
raised by the "alternative" model. Of the thirty-two news articles on, 
or closely related to, the plot that appeared in the New York Times 



between November I, !982, and January 31, 1983, twelve had no news 
content whatever but were reports of somebody's opinion or specula- 
tion about the case — or refusal to speculate about the issue. (The Times 
carried one news article whose sole content was that President Reagan 
had "no comment" on the case.) More typical was the front-page article 
by Henry Kamm, "Bonn is Fearful of Bulgaria Tie with Terrorists" 
(Dec. 12, 1982), or Bernard Gwertzman's "U.S. Intrigued But Uncertain 
on a Bulgarian Tie" (Dec. 26, 1982). In "news report" after news report, 
unnamed individuals are "intrigued," their interest is "piqued," evi- 
dence is said to be "not wholly convincing," or "final proof is still 
lacking!' Four of the Dews articles in the Times were on peripheral 
subjects such as smuggling in Bulgaria or papal-Soviet relations. Of the 
sixteen more direct news items, only one covered a solid news fact- 
namely, Antonov's arrest in Rome. The other fifteen news items were 
trivia, such as Kamm's "Bulgarians Regret Tarnished Image" (Jan. 27, 
1983), or another Kamm piece entitled "Italian Judge Inspects Apart- 
ment of Suspect in Bulgarian Case" (Jan. i2> 1983). AU of these expres- 
sions of opinion, doubts, interest, suppositions, and minor detail served 
to produce a lot of smoke-which kept the issue of possible Soviet 
involvement before the public. They steered quite clear of substantive 
issues that bore on motives, quality of evidence, and Turkish and Italian 

During the years that followed, to the end of the trial in March 1986, 
the mass media, with only minor exceptions, adhered closely and un- 
critically to the SHK framework. They not only failed to press alter- 
native questions, they also refused to examine closely the premises, 
logic, or evidence supporting the SHK case. Part of the reason for this 
was the media's extraordinary reliance on Sterling and Henze as 
sources (and Kalb's position as a news reporter on NBC-TV), and their 
unwillingness to ask these sources probing questions. 


Sterling and Henze, and to a lesser extent Michael Ledeen, dominated 
perceptions of the Bulgarian Connection in the U.S. mass media to a 
remarkable degree. Moreover, they affected the course of events in 
Italy, as their version of Bulgarian guilt was aired in the Italian media 
before Agca named the Bulgarians and may have influenced Martella 
as well,^' Sterling and Henze dominated media coverage by virtue of 
the very wide distribution of their articles and books on the case, and 


by their extensive and uncritical use as expens by the elite press, news 
magazines, and television news and talk shows.^^ Sterling, in addition 
to her Reader's Digest anicle, had three substantial pieces in the Wall 
Street Journal and several anicles in the New York Times. Her views 
were given repeated airing on CBS News, without rebuttal. Henze 
accounted for twelve of the fourteen articles on the Bulgarian Connec- 
tion case in the Christian Science Monitor between September 1982 and 
May 1985, and his articles were used widely elsewhere. The only opin- 
ion piece on the Bulgarian Connection that appeared in the 
Philadelphia Inquirer during that same period was by Michael Ledeen. 
Sterling, Henze, and Ledeen together accounted for 76 percent of the 
time in three shows on the subject on the "McNeil-Lehrer News 
Hour." No tough questions were asked of them on these shows, and no 
dissident voices were heard, perhaps because Sterling and Henze 
refused to appear on television shows (or in college debates) with 
people who opposed their views, and Henze insisted on approving in 
advance any questions to be asked. Thus their initial dominance was 
funher enhanced by coercive tactics.^ 

If we ask the deeper question of why these expens should predomi- 
nate in the first place, we believe the answer must be found in the power 
of their sponsors and the congeniality of their views to the corporate 
community and the mainstream media. Their messages passed quite 
easily through the filters of a propaganda system. Sterling was funded 
and published by Render's Digest, which gave her enormous outreach 
and immediate brand-name recognition. The conservative network is 
fond of Sterling, so their large stable of columnists and think-tank 
affiliates, like the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International 
Studies (CSIS) and the American Enterprise Institute, pushes her 
views. The Reagan administration was also delighted with Sterling- 
despite her frequent denunciations of the CIA and the State Depart- 
ment for their cowardice in failing to pursue terrorism and the 
Bulgarian Connection with sufficient aggressiveness !-and so were the 
New York Times, Time, Newsweek^ CBS News, and many others. Ster- 
ling was the outstanding popular expositor of the theme urged upon the 
conferees at the Jonathan Institute meeting of July 1979 and advocated 
by the Reagan administration team anxious to create a moral environ- 
ment for an arms race and global support of counterrevolutionary 
freedom fighters. 3° Henze, an old CIA hand and protege of Zbigniew 
Brzezinski, was also funded by the Reader's Digest, and Ledeen was 
affiMated with both the CSIS and the Reagan political team. I f the 
media transmit literal lies by this Big Three-which they did fre- 
quently -the flak machines remain silent. As one network official told 


one of the authors, if a critic of the Bulgarian Connection were allowed 
on the air, the official would "have to make sure that every i was dotted 
and / crossed; but with Sterling, there were no problems." 

Again in conformity with a propaganda model, it was of no appar- 
ent concern to the mass media that Sterling, Henze, and Ledeen were 
exceptionally biased sources, immune to the rules of evidence and, in 
fact, agents of disinformation. We discussed earlier Sterling's dismis- 
sal of Agca's commitment to Turkes and her handling of Agca's gun, 
and similar cases could be cited in large number, Sterling's Terror 
Network is notable for its guUibihty in accepting at face value claims 
fed her by Israeli, South African, and Argentinian secret police, and, 
most notably, the Czech Stalinist defector, Jan Sejna,32 whose evi- 
dence for a Soviet terror network came from a document forged by 
the CIA to test Sejna's integrity!33 A remarkable feature of Sterling's 
Time of the Assassins and other writings on the Bulgarian Connection 
is her reiterated belief that the Reagan administration and CIA 
dragged their feet in pursuing the Red plot because of their interest in 
detente.^* And despite her phenomenal sales and uncritical reception 
in the U.S. media. Sterling bemoaned the "accepted position, the so- 
cially indispensable position ... if you care to move in certain circles 
and if you care to be accepted at your job professionally" in the West, 
of doubting the Bulgarian Connection, which she attributed to the 
success of the KGB in pushing a forty-page booklet on the plot by 
Soviet journalist lona Andronov.--^ 

These evidences of charlatanry did not impair Sterling's credibility 
with the U.S. mass media-in fact, the New York Times allowed her 
front-page space and a regular role as a reporter of nem on the Bul- 
garian connection. By doing this, the Times guaranteed that editorial 
pohcy would control the news fit to print. This was displayed fully in 
Sterling's front-page news story of prosecutor Albano's report on June 
10, 1984. The most important nev.' information in that report-that on 
June 28, 1983, Agca had retracted a substantial part of his evidence 
against the Bulgarians-was omitted from Sterling's storyj although she 
coyly suggested that some undescribed points had been retracted that 
were already "corroborated." This was seriously misleading. Agca's 
having visited Antonov's apartment and met with his family was never 
corroborated, and the details he gave on these matters had previously 
been cited by Sterling and Henze as crucial corroboration of his general 
claims. His retraction thus led to the important question of how Agca 
had learned details about Antonov's apartment without having been 
there. This issue was never seriously addressed in the Nets York 
Times. 36 


Paul Henze was a longtime CIA official who had been head of the 
CIA station in Turkey and a specialist in propaganda. Former Turkish 
head of state Bulent Ecevit even accused Henze of helping destabilize 
Turkey during his term of operations there.'^ Henze never refers in his 
"news" articles to his active participation in Turkish affairs as a CIA 
official. His writings are notable for their consistent apologetics for 
military rule in Turkey, for their dishonesty,38 and for the fact that 
Henze openly disdains the use of rules of evidence in proving Soviet 

Michael Ledeen, as we saw in chapter I, contends that the mass 
media believe Qaddafi more readily than the U.S. government, and 
focus more heavily on the victims of state terror in U.S. client states 
(Indonesia in East Timor, and Guatemala?) than in enemy and radical 
states (Cambodia and Poland?). Again, such absurdities do not reduce 
Ledeen's access to the mass media as an expert on the Bulgarian Con- 
nection, or on anything else.** 

The mass media not only allowed these disinformation sources to 
prevail, they protected them against disclosures that would reveal their 
dubious credentials. That Henze was a longtime CIA official was almost 
never mentioned in the press (never, to our knowledge, on television), 
and his consistent apologetics for the Turkish military regime and 
frequent lies were never disclosed. In Sterling's case, her numerous 
errors of fact, foolish arguments, and wilder political opinions were not 
disclosed to readers of the New York Times, Time^ or Newsweek, or 
watchers of CBS News or the "McNeil-Lehrer News Hour," and even 
"newsworthy" matters bearing on her qualifications were ignored. For 
example. Sterling's numerous attacks on the murdered French activist- 
radical Henry Curiel resulted in suits for slander brought against her 
in Paris. The New York Times has never mentioned these slander suits, 
which would put Sterling in a bad light not only because she lost them 
in whole or part, but also because of the insight they provide concerning 
her sources and methods. Sterling had gotten much of her information 
from a French joutnalUt, George Suffert, who was a conduit for French 
and South African intelligence, and who had obligingly placed the 
African National Congress at the top of his list of "terrorist" organiza- 
tions. In her Terror Network, Sterling strongly intimates that Curiel was 
a KGB agent, but the French court, on the basis of documents provided 
by French intelligence, found no support for this claim. Sterling re- 
treated to the defense that her insinuation of Curiel's KGB connection 
was merely a "hypothesis" rather than an assertion of fact. The case, 
in short, showed that she was a conduit of disinformation, quite pre- 


pared to slander a murdered radical on the basis of claims by extreme 
right-wing disinformation sources. 

Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative activist and disinformationist, 
with ready access to the Times^ has also received its close protection. 
His book Grave New World was reviewed in the Times by William 
Griffith, a Reader's Digest "roving editor" and right-wing MIT political 
scientist who found Ledeen's version of the Bulgarian Connection 
entirely convincing. ^1 Ledeen was deeply involved with Francesco Pa- 
zienza in the "Billygate" affair and had numerous contacts with Italian 
intelligence and the Italian extreme right. The Italian Fascist and head 
of P-2, Lido Gelli, hiding in Uruguay, instructed one of his accom- 
plices to convey a manuscript to Ledeen. Pazienza claimed (and SISMI 
head Santovito confirmed) that Ledeen was a member of the Italian 
intelligence agency SISMI, with code number Z-3. Ledeen received 
over from SISMI for services rendered, including the supply- 
ing of stale U.S. intelligence reports that SISMI then passed off as its 
own. Ledeen funneled this money into a Bermuda bank account. His 
manipulative activities in Italy were on such a scale that in the summer 
of 1984 a newly appointed head of SISMI told the Italian parliament 
that Ledeen was a "meddler" and persona non grata in Italy.42 None of 
these points was ever disclosed in the Times. 43 


There is a close linkage among sources used, frames of reference, and 
agendas ofthe newsworthy. When the mass media chose to use Sterling, 
Henze, and Ledeen heavily, they simultaneously adopted a frame of 
reference in which the Bulgarians and Soviets were presumed guilty, 
Agca was an apolitical mercenary, and justice was being promoted by 
diligent Judge Martella in free-world Italy. In the propaganda cam- 
paign that ensued, hard questions about the quality ofthe SHK model 
were simply not asked, and alternative sources and frames were ig- 

A distinction between matters on and off the agenda, such as we used 
in the previous chapter, is once again applicable and illuminating. "On 
the agenda" are statements by Agca and Martella about Agca's latest 



claims and proofs of Bulgarian involvement, Brzezinski's opinion on 
whether the Bulgarians arc likely to have engaged in such an escapade 
(they were), or Judy Woodruffs question to Paul Henze as to whether 
the Soviets "would have any notion, any desire to try this again" (they 
do this kind of thing all the time-just got a little careless here because 
"they had got away with so much in ltaly").44 As in the Third World 
election cases described in chapter 3, the media prefer to focus on 
superficial detail about the participants and opinions within a narrow 
range of establishment views (plus bluff denials by Bulgarian and Soviet 
officials), along with each development supporting the accepted case (a 
defector's accusations, a further Agca confession, an investigator's or 
prosecutor's report, and leaks of alleged claims or expected new devel- 
opments), whatever its credibility_ 

"Off the agenda" are arguments and facts that would call into ques- 
tion the validity of the basic SHK model, and those relating to the 
"alternative model" (which stam with the question of why Agca con- 
fessed so late and the likelihood that he was encouraged and pressed 
to talk). We wiU run through only a few of the important questions and 
points of evidence that the mass media put off the agenda. 

The basic SHK model rested its case on the Soviet motive, Agca's 
stay in Sofia, and the high professionalism of the Soviet and Bulgarian 
secret police, which made it hkely that they were manipulating Agca if 
he stopped off in Bulgaria. Only the ABC "20/20" program of May 12, 
1983, explored the Soviet motive in any depth, despite the constant 
mass-media reiteration of the SHK line. ABC went to the trouble of 
asking the Vatican about the validity of Marvin Kalb's claim that the 
pope had written a note threatening to resign and to return to Poland 
to lead the resistance to any Soviet invasion. Cardinal John Krol, 
speaking for the Vatican, said that "Not only was there not such a letter, 
but such a letter directly from the Pope to Brezhnev would have been 
a total departure from all normal procedures. In no way could you 
conceive of the Holy Father saying, 'I would resign.'" ABC's informa- 
tion from the Vatican too was that the pope's spoken message to Brezh- 
nev was conciliatory. This spectacular repudiation of an important 
element in the SHK case was unreported in the rest of the media, and 
simply died with the ABC broadcast. And any balancing of supposed 
gains against the costs and risks to the Soviet Union in sponsoring Agca 
was simply not undertaken in the mass media. 

None of them stopped to evaluate Agca's 1979 letter threatening to 
kill the pope on his earlier visit to Turkey. Sterling's ludicrous claim 
that the KGB hired a Turk to kill the pope in order to damage Turkey's 


relation to NATO was never discussed. The question of the authentic- 
ity of Agca's letter to Turkes, which bears on Agca's political commit- 
ments (and thus another SHK premise), was never discussed in the U.S. 
mass media. During the trial, Abdullah Catli's statement that Bulgaria 
was a preferred Gray Wolves route to Europe because of the relative 
ease of hiding in the heavy Turkish traffic-which directly contradicts 
the SHK claim that the Bulgarian secret pohce know everything, and 
that Agca's stay in Sofia must therefore have been by Bulgarian official 
pi an- was never picked up in the U.S. mass media's coverage of the 
Rome trial. 

The most striking deficiencies of the mass media's handling of the 
basic SHK claims, however, was their remarkable naivct6 in the face 
of the pseudoscientific speculations of SHK and the accumulating vio- 
lations of elementary principles of plausible deniability. The preposter- 
ous SHK claims-without a vestige of evidence-that Agca had been 
recruited by the KGB in Turkey for future work, and that he took on 
the appearance of a right-winger as a "cover," were not ridiculed, and 
were not evaluated when presented as purported truth, There was 
never any discussion in the mass media of the fact that the thesis of 
prior recruitment and careful cultivation of Agca's cover in Turkey was 
flatly inconsistent with the claim that he was brought to Sofia for a 
lengthy stay for instructions. With regard to Agca's alleged open deal- 
ings with Bulgarians in Rome, the mass media simply refused to discuss 
the fact that the alleged professionalism and use of the right-wing Turk 
as a "cover" had disappeared. 

As regards the alternative model, and the likelihood that Agca had 
been encouraged and coached, here also the mass media refused to 
explore these dissonant possibilities. They simply would not examine 
and discuss the convenience of the newly discovered plot for so many 
Western in(erests; the huge time /agin the nam/ng of Bulgarians; Agca's 
prison conditions and prison contacts; reports of meetings, offers, and 
threats to Agca to induce him to talk; and the compromised character 
of the Italian police and intelligence agencies. This involved the media 
in the suppression of important documents. 

As one important instance, the July 12, 1984, Italian Report of the 
Parliamentary Commission on the Masonic Lodge P-2 describes in great 
detail the penetration of this massive neo-Fascist conspiracy into the 
military establishment, secret services, press, and judiciary, among oth- 
ers. This report was newsworthy in its own right, but it also had a 
bearing on the Bulgarian Connection case, as it addressed characteris- 
tics of Italian institutions that were directly involved in making and 


prosecuting the case against the Bulgarians. The New York TimeSt Timet 
Newsweek, and CBS Evening News never mentioned the publication of 
this report. 

As a second major illustration, one year later, in July 1985, the Crimi- 
nal Court of Rome handed down iyudgmeni in the Maner of Francesco 

Pazienza et al„ which described repeated corrupt behavior by officials 
of the Italian secret-service agency SISMI, including the forgery and 
planting of documents. These officials were also charged with involve- 
ment in a cover-up ofthe agents carrying out the 1980 Bologna railway- 
station massacre, the kind of terrorist connection that attracts frenetic 
mass-media attention when attributable to suitable villains. As we noted 
earlier, SISMI officials had visited Agca in prison and SISMI had 
issued a forged document implicating the Soviet Union in the shooting 
of the pope on May 19, 1981, only six days after the assassination 
attempt. This forgery was never mentioned in the Times, Time, and 
Newsweek, or on CBS News, and the July 1985 court decision was barely 
mentioned in a back-page article of the Times. 

These blackouts are of materials that suggest a corrupt Italian pro- 
cess and the possibility that Agca was persuaded and coached to pin the 
plot on the East. A propaganda system exploiting the alleged Bulgarian 
Connection will naturally avoid such documents. 

Agca's extremely loose prison conditions and the numerous claims 
in the Italian and dissident U.S. press of visits by Italian intelligence 
personnel were also virtually unmentioned by the U.S. mass media 
throughout 1982 and 1983. In June 1983, Diana Johnstone, the foreign 
editor of the newspaper In These Times submitted on Op-Ed column 
to the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer that summarized 
the evidence and claims of intelligence-agency visits, the reported 
threats to Agca that his open and pleasant prison conditions might be 
terminated if he remained uncooperative, and Martella's proposed deal 
with Agca. This Op-Ed offering was rejected, and no commentary or 
news along these lines was permitted to surface in. the Times or the 
Philadelphia Inquirer-or elsewhere, to our knowledge. Several years 
later, in an article in the A^ew York Times of June 17,1985, referring to 
Pandico's detailed description of how Agca was coached in prison, John 
Tagliabue describes Agca's prison as "notoriously porous." But the 
Tim£s had never mentioned this notorious fact before, or considered it 
in any way relevant to the case. 

When Agca identified the Bulgarians in November 1982, the integrity 
of the Italian investigative-judicial process in pursuing the case was 
already badly compromised for a wide variety of reasons,46 but the U.S. 
mass media weren't interested. Nor were they interested in the strange 


circumstances of the famous Antonov photo, widely circulated in the 
Western press, which shows Antonov very clearly and in a remarkable 
likeness watching the scene at St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981. This 
photo, Martella eventually claimed, was not of Antonov but an Ameri- 
can tourist. But this tourist, who apparently looked exactly like An- 
tonov, has never been located, and the film from which this shot was 
taken has unaccountably disappeared."*^ Agca's alterations in his claims 
about the Bulgarians, with Martella generously allowing him to change 
his recollections about the timing of events on May 13 whenever Bul- 
garian counter-evidence was too strong, failed to attract the media's 
attention. Agca's June 28, 1983, retraction of his claim that he had 
visited Antonov's apartment and met his family was not mentioned in 
the mass media until a full year after the event, and even then suggested 
to the press no very serious problems with the case or with Martella' s 
investigative work.'*^ hq^v could Agca know details about Antonov's 
apartment if he had never been there? An honest press would have 
pursued this relentlessly. The New York Times, with Sterling as its 
reporter, suppressed the issue. ^ The rest of the press simply wasn't 

The media also weren't interested in Orsen Oymen's finding that the 
Vatican had gone to some pains to try to implicate the Bulgarians, or 
the trial disclosure that the West German authorities had tried to bribe 
Gray Wolves member Oral Celik to come to West Germany and con- 
firm Agca's claims. Pandico's and Pazienza's insider claims of Mafia and 
8I8MI involvement in getting Agca to talk were also given only the 
slightest attention, and this accumulating mass of materials on the 
Italian process was never brought together for a reassessment. 

Perhaps the most blatant case of willful ignorance concerned the 
Italian fixer and former member of SI8MI, Francesco Pazienza. 
Wanted for several crimes, Pazienza had fled Italy, and in 1985 he 
resided in exile in New York City. Eventually he was seized and held 
there by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Pazienza had 
been a partner of Michael Ledeen in the "Billygate" affair in Italy, and 
retained his connection after Ledeen became General Haig's right- 
hand man in Italy in the early days of the Reagan presidency. Pazienza 
had also been a close associate of SISMI head Giuseppe 8antovito. 
From 1983 onward it was alleged in the Italian press that Pazienza had 
been involved in getting Agca to talk, and he himself eventually made 
detailed accusations of coaching by elements of SISMI. Although Pa- 
zienza was readily available for interviews in a New York City jail, the 
New York Times ignored him. Our hypothesis is that they did this 
because if they had talked to him it would have been difficult to avoid 


discussing his connections with Ledeen and Sterling (both Times 
sources and under Times protection). This would not have reflected 
well on the quality of the paper's sourcing. Pazienza's story would also 
have highlighted the Times 's suppression of facts concerning the cor- 
ruption of SISMI and raised questions about coaching. This would 
have disturbed the propaganda line. 

The trial in Rome was awkward for the Western media, as Agea 
quickly declared himself to be Jesus and, more important, failed to 
produce any supportive evidence backing up his claims of Bulgarian 
involvement. The diligent and extensive court investigation found nu- 
merous Gray Wolves links to Agea in the period just up to his assassina- 
tion attempt, but no witness to his (allegedly) numerous meetings with 
Bulgarians in Rome, no money, no car, and, in the end, no conviction. 
As we have pointed out, in addition to the already available evidence 
of atrocious prison practice in dealing with Agea, and the 1981 meetings 
with intelligence officials and Martella's offer, there was a steady ac- 
cumulation of claims and evidence of pressures on Agea to implicate 
the Bulgarians. But, despite this evidence and the failure to convict the 
Bulgarians after a lengthy investigation and trial, the mass media of the 
West never provided any serious reevaluations of the case. Ahnost 
uniformly they hid behind the fact that an Italian court dismissed the 
case for lack of evidence rather than demonstrated innocence. They 
never hinted at the possibility that an Italian court and jury might still 
be biased against the Eastern bloc and protective of the powerful 
Western interests that had supported the Bulgarian Connection so 

The mass media also never looked back at their own earlier claims 
and those of the disinformationists to see how they had stood up to the 
test of accumulated evidence. On January 3, 1983, Newsweek had quoted 
an Italian official who said that "we have substantial evidence . . . [that} 
Agea operated in close contact with the Bulgarians," and the New York 
Times editorialized on October 20, 1984, that "Agea's accounts of meet- 
ings with Bulgarian officials are verifiable in important details." If there 
was "substantial evidence" and "verifiable" details long before the trial, 
why was this evidence not produced in the courtroom? Why, after an 
enormous further investigative effort was there still not enough evi- 
dence to sustain a conviction? The U.S. mass media didn't even try to 
answer these questions. This would mean asking serious questions 
about the validity of the SHK model and considering alternatives, 
which the media have never been prepared to do. For them, the alterna- 
tive model, plausible from the beginning and, by March 1986, based on 
a great deal of evidence, was still the "Bulgarian view." The questions 


raised by the "Bulgarian view>" we believe, would have been applied 
by the U.S. mass media to analogous facts in a Moscow setting. This 
means that the view actually employed by the media from beginning to 
end was a "U.S. government view," as suggested by a propaganda 
model. That this was true even after the trial ended we show in a 
detailed analysis in appendix 3j "Tagliabue's Finale on the Bulgarian 
Connection: A Case Study in Bias." 

The Indochina Wars (I): 


gendered a good deal of bitter controversy, some close analysis of 
several specific incidents, and a few general studies.' It is widely held 
that the media "lost the war" by exposing the general population to its 
horrors and by unfair, incompetent, and biased coverage reflecting the 
"adversary culture" of the sixties. The media's reporting of the Tet 
offensive has served as the prime example of this hostility to established 
power, which, it has been argued, undermines democratic instirutions 
and should be curbed, either by the media themselves or by the state. 

A propaganda model leads to different expectations. On its assump- 
tions, we would expect media coverage and interpretation of the war 
to take for granted that the United States intervened in the service of 
generous ideals, with the goal of defending South Vietnam from aggres- 
sion and terrorism and in the interest of democracy and self-determina- 
tion. With regard to the second-level debate on the performance of the 
media, a propaganda model leads us to expect that there would be no 
condemnation of the media for uncritical acceptance of the doctrine of 


U.S. benevolence and for adherence to the official line on all central 
issues, or even awareness of these characteristics of media performance. 
Rather, given that the U.S. government did not attain all of its objec- 
tives in Indochina, the issue would be whether the media are to be 
faulted for undermining the noble cause by adopting too "adversarial" 
a stance and departing thereby from fairness and objectivity. 
We shall see that aU of these expectations are amply fulfilled. 


"For the first time in history," Robert Elegant writes, "the outcome of 
a war was determined not in the battlefield, but on the printed page, 
and above all, on the television screen," leading to the defeat of the 
United States in Vietnam. The belief that the media, particularly televi- 
sion, were responsible for U.S. government failures is widely expressed. 
It was endorsed by the right-wing media- monitoring organization Ac- 
curacy in Media in its hour-long "Vietnam Op/Ed" aired by public 
television in response to its own thirteen-part series on the war.^ Ac- 
cording to a more "moderate" expression of this view, the media had 
become a "notable new source of national power" by 1970 as part of 
a general "excess of democracy," contributing to "the reduction of 
governmental authority" at home and a resulting "decline in the influ- 
ence of democracy abroad." "Broader interests of society and govern- 
ment" require that if journalists do not impose "standards of 
professionalism," "the alternative could well be regulation by the gov- 
ernment" to the end of "restoring a balance between government and 
media."3 Freedom House Executive-Director Leonard Sussman, com- 
menting on Big Story, the study of media coverage of the Tet offensive 
sponsored by Freedom House, describes the "adversarial aspect" of the 
press-government relation as "normal," presupposing without argu- 
ment that it has been demonstrated, but asks: "Must free institutions 
be overthrown because of the very freedom they sustain?"4 John Roche 
proceeds further still, calling for congressional investigation of "the 
workings of these private governments" who distorted the record in 
pursuit of their "anti- Johnson mission," although he fears Congress is 
too "terrified of the media" and their awesome power to take on this 
necessary task. ^ 

Neu> York Times television critic John Corry defends the media as 


merely "unmindful," not "unpatriotic" as the harsher cntics claim. 
They are not "anti- American," despite their adversarial stance; rather, 
"they reflect a powerful element of the journalistic-literary-political 
culture," where "the left wins battles ... by default" because "its ideas 
make up the moral and intellectual framework for a large part of the 
culture," and "television becomes an accomplice of the left when it 
allows the culture to influence its news judgments," as in his view it 
regularly does.* 

Media spokespersons, meanwhile, defend their commitment to inde- 
pendence while conceding that they may err through excessive zeal in 
calling the government to account in vigorous pursuit of their role as 

Within the mainstream, the debate is largely framed within the 
bounds illustrated by the PBS -AIM interchange broadcast on the pub- 
lic television network. AIM's "Vietnam Op/Ed" accused PBS of "de- 
liberate misrepresentation" and other sins, while the producers of the 
documentary defended its accuracy. A dozen commentators, ranging 
from extreme hawks to mild critics of the war such as General Douglas 
Kinnard, added their thoughts.^ The program concluded with a studio 
wrap-up featuring three "intelligent citizens"; Colonel Harry Summers 
of the Army War College, a hawkish critic of the tactics of the war; 
Peter Braestrup, one of the harshest critics of media war coverage; and 
Huynh Sanh Thong, speaking for what the moderator called "the South 
Vietnamese community," meaning the exile community. 

The hypothesis advanced by the propaganda model, excluded from 
debate as unthinkable, is that in dealing with the American wars in 
Indochina, the media were indeed "unmindful," but highly "patriotic" 
in the special and misleading sense that they kept-and keep--dosely 
to the perspective of official Washington and the closely related corpo- 
rate elite, in conformity to the general "journalistic-literary-political 
culture" from which "the left" (meaning dissident opinion that ques- 
tions jingoist assumptions) is virtually excluded. The propaganda 
model predicts that this should be generally true not only of the choice 
of topics covered and the way they are covered, but also, and far more 
crucially, of the general background of presuppositions within which 
the issues are framed and the news presented. Insofar as there is debate 
among dominant elites, it will be reflected within the media, which in 
this narrow sense may adopt an "adversarial stance" with regard to 
those holding office, r.eflecting elite dissatisfaction with current policy. 
Otherwise the media will depart from the elite consensus only rarely 
and in limited ways. Even when large parts of the general public break 
free of the premises of the doctrinal system, as finally happened during 


the Indochina wars, real understanding based upon an alternative con- 
ception of the evolving history can be developed only with considerable 
effort by the most diligent and skeptical. And such understanding as can 
be reached through serious and often individual effort will be difficult 
to sustain or apply elsewhere, an extremely important matter for those 
who are truly concerned with democracy at home and "the influence 
of democracy abroad," in the real sense of these words. 

These conclusions concerning media conformism are accepted in 
part by mainstream critics of the media. Thus Leonard Sussman, of 
Freedom House, observes that "U.S. intervention in 1965 enjoyed near- 
total editorial support, "s The "intervention" in 1965 included the 

deployment of U.S. combat forces in Vietnam, the regular bombing of 
North Vietnam, and the bombing of South Vietnam at triple the scale 
in a program of "unlimited aerial warfare inside the country at the price 
of literally pounding the place to bits. "9 It is a highly significant fact 
that neither then, nor before, was there any detectable questioning of 
the righteousness of the American cause in Vietnam, or of the necessity 
to proceed to full-scale "intervention." By that time, of course, only 
questions of tactics and costs remained open, and further discussion in 
the mainstream media was largely limited to these narrow issues. While 
dissent and domestic controversy became a focus of media coverage 
from 1965, the actual views of dissidents and resisters were virtually 
excluded. These individuals were presented primarily as a threat to 
order, and while their tactics might be discussed, their views were not: 
"The antiwar movement stood at the bottom of the media's hierarchy 
of legitimate political actors," Daniel Hallin concludes from his survey 
of television coverage (the print media were hardly different), "and its 
access to the news and influence over it were still more .Limited. "lo All 
exactly as the propaganda model predicts. 

As the war progressed, elite opinion gradually shifted to the belief 
that the U.S. intervention was a "tragic mistake" that was proving too 
costly, thus enlarging the domain of debate to include a range of tactical 
questions hitherto excluded. Expressible opinion in the media broad- 
ened to accommodate these judgments, but the righteousness of the 
cause and nobility of intent were rarely subject to question. Rather, 
editorials explained that the "idealistic motives" of "the political and 
military commands" who "conceive[d] their role quite honestly as that 
of liberators and alhes in the cause of freedom . . . had little chance to 
prevail against local leaders skilled in the art of manipulating their 
foreign protectors. "11 "Our Vietnamese" were too corrupt and we were 
too weak and too naive to resist their manipulations, while "their Viet- 
namese" were too wily and vicious. How could American idealism cope 


with such unfavorable conditions? At the war's end, the liberal media 
could voice the lament that "the high hopes and wishful idealism with 
which the American nation had been born . . . had been chastened by 
the failure of America to work its will in Indochina." 12 But no conflict 
can be perceived between "wishful idealism" and the commitment to 
"work our will" in foreign lands, a comment that holds of "the culture" 
more broadly. 

As for direct reporting, the major charge of the influential Freedom 
House study of the Tet offensive, echoed by others who condemn the 
media for their overly "adversarial" stance, is that reporting was too 
"pessimistic." We return to the facts, but consideration of the logic of 
the charge shows that even if accurate, it would be quite consistent with 
a propaganda model. There was, no doubt, increased pessimism within 
the German general staff after Stalingrad. Similarly, Soviet elites 
openly expressed concern over the wisdom of "the defense of Afghanis- 
tan" and its costs, and some might have been "overly pessimistic" about 
the likelihood of success in this endeavor. But in neither case do we 
interpret these reactions as a departure from service to the national 
cause as defined by the state authorities. The Freedom House charge 
tacitly but clearly presupposes that the media must not only accept the 
framework of government propaganda, but must be upbeat and enthu- 
siastic about the prospects for success in a cause that is assumed with- 
out discussion to be honorable and just. 

This basic assumption endures throughout, and provides the basic 
framework for discussion and news reports. The harshest critics within 
the mainstream media, as well as what Corry calls "the culture," held 
that the war began with "blundering efforts to do good," although "by 
1969" (that is, a year after corporate America had largely concluded that 
this enterprise should be liquidated) it had become "clear to most of 
the world-and most Americans-that the intervention had been a 
disastrous mistake," and that it was a "delusion" to attempt to build "a 
nation on the American model in South Vietnam"; the argument against 
the war "was that the United States had misunderstood the cultural and 
political forces at work in Indochina-that it was in a position where 
it could not impose a solution except at a price too costly to itself 
(Anthony Lewis).'* Stanley Karnow's highly praised companion vol- 
ume to the PBS television series describes the American war as "a failed 
crusade" undertaken for aims that were "noble" although "illusory" 
and "motivated by the loftiest intentions": specifically, the commitment 
"to defend South Vietnam's independence." 14 

Within "the culture," it would be difficult to find harsher critics of 
U.S. Asia policy than John King Fairbank, the dean of American China 


scholarship, or Harvard government professor Stanley Hoffmann, or 
Dissent editor Irving Howe. In his presidential address to the American 
Historical Association in December 1968, Fairbank characterized the 
U.S. involvement, which he termed a "disaster," as the result of "an 
excess of righteousness and disinterested benevolence," an "error" 
based on misunderstanding. Howe explained that "we opposed the war 
because we believed, as Stanley Hoffman [sic] has written, that 'Wash- 
ington could "save" the people of South Vietnam and Cambodia from 
Communism only at a cost that made a mockery of the word "save." , " 
Hoffmann explains later that our efforts in "supporting the South Viet- 
namese" were "undermined" by the way the war was fought, while the 
means adopted to "deter the North Vietnamese from further infiltra- 
tion" were "never sufficient"; and sufficient means, "had the United 
States been willing to commit them, would have created for the United 
States real external dangers with potential adversaries and in relations 
with allies." Again, we find not the slightest recognition that the familiar 
pieties of state propaganda might be subject to some question. 

In its 1985 tenth-anniversary retrospective on the Vietnam war. For- 
eign Affairs presents both the hawk and the dove positions. Represent- 
ing the more dovish view, David Fromkin and James Chace assert 
without argument that "the American decision to intervene in Indo- 
china was predicated on the view that the United States has a duty to 
look beyond its purely national interests." and that, pursuant to its 
"global responsibilities," the United States must "serve the interests of 
mankind." "As a moral matter we were right to choose the lesser of two 
evils" and to oppose "communist aggression" by the Vietnamese in 
Vietnam, but on the "practical side" it was "wrong" because "our side 
was likely to lose." The moral imperatives of our service "to the inter- 
ests of mankind" do not. however, require that we intervene to over- 
throw governments that are slaughtering their own populations, such 
as the Indonesian government we supported in 1965, or our Guatemalan 
and Salvadoran clients of the 1980s. On the contrary, they observe, the 
success of our Indonesian alMes in destroying the domestic political 
opposition by violence in 1965 was a respectable achievement that 
should have led us to reconsider our Vietnam policy. They cite Lyndon 
Johnson's national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, who feels in 
retrospect that "our effort" in Vietnam was "excessive" after 1965, 
when "a new anti-communist government took power in Indonesia and 
destroyed the communist party [the only mass-based political party] in 
that country . . . •" incidentally slaughtering several hundred thousand 
people, mostly landless peasants, and thus "securing" Indonesia in 


accord with our "global responsibilities" and "serving the interests of 
mankind." 16 

Fromkin and Chace define "opponents of the war"-meaning. pre- 
sumably, critics whose views merit serious consideration-as those who 
"did not believe that 'whipping' the enemy [North Vietnam] was 
enough, so long as the enemy refused to submit or surrender." The 
media, they say, "brought home to the American people how little 
effective control over the population had been purchased by all of 
General Westmoreland's victories," thus strengthening the "opponents 
of the war," dissatisfied by our inability to gain "effective control over 
the population." "The media cannot be blamed for pointing out the 
problem, and if General Westmoreland knew the answer to it. perhaps 
he should have revealed it to the public." 

Outside of those committed to "the cause," although possibly skepti- 
cal about its feasibility or the means employed, there are only those 
whom McGeorge Bundy once described as "wild men in the wings," 
referring to people who dared to question the decisions of the "first 
team" that was determining U.S. policy in Vietnam." 

Quite generally, insofar as the debate over the war could reach the 
mainstream during the war or since, it was bounded on the one side by 
the "hawks," who felt that with sufficient dedication the United States 
could succeed in "defending South Vietnam," "controlling the popula- 
tion," and thus establishing "American-style democracy" there,18 and 
on the other side by the "doves," who doubted that success could be 
achieved in these noble aims at reasonable costi'- later, there arrived 
the "owls." who observed the proceedings judiciously without suc- 
cumbing to the illusions of either extreme of this wrenching contro- 
versy. Reporting and interpretation of the facts were framed in 
accordance with these principles. 


As the elite consensus eroded in the late 1960s, criticism of the "noble 
cause" on grounds of its lack of success became more acceptable, and 
the category of "wild men in the wings" narrowed to those who opposed 
the war on grounds of principle-the same grounds on which they 
opposed the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and, later, 
Afghanistan. Let us consider how superpower intervention would be 


presented from a point ofview that permits aggression to be understood 
as aggression. 

In the case of Soviet intervention, there is no serious controversy. 
True, the Soviet Union has security concerns in Eastern Europe, in- 
cluding states that collaborated with the Nazis in an attack on the 
Soviet Union that practically destroyed it a generation ago and now 
serve as a buffer to a rearmed West Germany that is part of a hostile 
and threatening military aUiance. True, Afghanistan borders areas of 
the Soviet Union where the population could be inflamed by a radical 
Islamic fundamentalist revival, and the rebels, openly supported by 
bitter enemies of the Soviet Union, are undoubtedly terrorists commit- 
ted to harsh oppression and religious fanaticism who carry out violent 
acts inside the Soviet Union itself and have been attacking Afghanistan 
from Pakistani bases since 1973, six years before the Soviet invasion.^O 
But none of these complexities bear on the fact that the Soviet Union 
invaded Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Afghanistan, holds Poland in a 
firm grip, etc. True, the Russians were invited into Afghanistan in 1979, 
but as the London Economist accurately observed, "an invader is an 
invader unless invited in by a government with some claim to legiti- 
macy,"21 and the government that the Soviet Union installed to invite 
it in plainly lacked any such claim. 

None of these matters elicit serious controversy, nor should they. 
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, like earlier cases of Soviet inter- 
vention in the region occupied by the Red Army as it drove out the 
Nazis during World War II, are described as aggression, and the facts 
are reported in these terms. The United Nations has repeatedly con- 
demned the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan and regularly investigates 
and denounces the crimes they have committed. Western reporters 
cover the war from the standpoint of (he rebels defending their country 
from foreign attack, entering Afghanistan with them from their Pakis- 
tani sanctuaries. Official Soviet pronouncements are treated not merely 
with skepticism but with disdain. 

In the case ofthe U.S. intervention in Indochina, no such interpreta- 
tion has ever been conceivable, apart from "the wild men in the wings," 
although it is at least as well grounded as the standard, and obviously 
correct, interpretation ofthe Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. Further- 
more, the reporting practice of journalists and commentators is also 
radically different in the two cases. We put off for a moment the more 
significant issue of how the war is understood, focusing first on the 
narrower question of journalistic practice. 

In sharp contrast to the Soviet aggression, it was standard practice 
throughout the Indochina war for journalists to report Washington 


pronouncements as fact, even in the extreme case when official state- 
ments were knOwn to be false. Furthermore, this practice persisted 
through the period when the media had allegedly had become "a nota- 
ble new source of national power" threatening government authority. 
To mention only one typical case from the year in which, we are to 
understand, this status had been definitively attained (see p. 170), in 
March 1970 the media reported a North Vietnamese invasion of Laos 
on the basis of a speech by President Nixon announcing that North 
Vietnamese forces in Laos had suddenly risen from 50,000 to 67,000. 
Nixon's comment came immediately after the U.S. military attache in 
Vientiane had presented his standard briefing citing the lower figure- a 
source of much private amusement among the press corps in Vientiane, 
as one of us witnessed at first hand-but the presidential fabrication 
was reported as fact. The lower figure was also fraudulent, although this 
fact was never reported. 22 Throughout the Indochina wars, when offi- 
cial statements were questioned, it was generally on the basis of U.S. 
military sources in the field, so that reporting and analysis remained 
well within the bounds set by U.S. power.23 

Only very rarely did U.S. reporters make any effort to see the war 
from the point of view of "the enemy"-the peasants of South Vietnam, 
Laos, or later Cambodia--or to accompany the military forces of "the 
enemy" resisting the U.S. assault. Such evidence as was available was 
ignored or dismissed. In reporting the war in Afghanistan, it is consid- 
ered essential and proper to observe it from the standpoint of the 
victims. In the case of Indochina, it was the American invaders who 
were regarded as the victims of the "aggression" of the Vietnamese, and 
the war was reported from their point of view, just as subsequent 
commentary, including cinema, views the war from this perspective. 

Refugee testimony, which could have provided much insight into the 
nature of the war, was also regularly ignored. The enemy of the U.S. 
government was the enemy of the press, which could not even refer to 
them by their own name: they were the "Viet Cong," a derogatory term 
of U.S. -Saigon propaganda, not the National Liberation Front, a 
phrase "never used without quotation marks" by American reporters,^* 
who regularly referred to "Communist aggression" (E. W. Kenworthy) 
by the South Vietnamese in South Vietnam and Communist efforts "to 
subvert this country" (David Halberstam)2S-their country, then under 
the rule of a U.S. -imposed client regime. 

To a substantial extent, the war was reported from Washington. In 
late 1970, when the process of elite defection was well under way, Los 
A ngeles Times Washington correspondent Jules Witcover described the 
Washington scene during the earlier years: 


While the press corps in those years diligently reported what the 
government said about Vietnam, and questioned the inconsisten- 
cies as they arose, too few sought out opposing viewpoints and 
expertise until too late, when events and the prominence of the 
Vietnam dissent could no longer be ignored. In coverage of the 
war, the press corps' job narrowed down to three basic tasks- 
reporting what the government said, finding out whether it was 
true, and assessing whether the policy enunciated worked. The 
group did a highly professional job on the first task. But it fell 
down on the second and third, and there is strong evidence the 
reason is too many reporters sought the answers in all three cate- 
gories from the same basic source-the government.26 

The search for "opposing viewpoints" as things went wrong was also 
extremely narrow, limited to the domain of tactics -that is, limited to 
the question of "whether the policy enunciated worked," viewed en- 
tirely from the standpoint of U.S. interests, and with official premises 
taken as given. 

Furthermore, the U.S. war was openly supported by U.S. allies, some 
of whom sent combat forces (Austraha, Thailand, South Korea), while 
others enriched themselves through their participation in the destruc- 
tion of Indochina. For Japan and South Korea, this participation con- 
tributed significantly to their "take-off" to the status of major economic 
powers, while Canada and Western Europe also profited from their 
support for the U.S. operations. In contrast to the Soviet invasion of 
Afghanistan, the United Nations never condemned the U.S. "interven- 
tion," nor did it investigate or denounce the crimes committed in the 
course of U.S. military operations, a reflection of U.S. world power and 
influence. These facts notwithstanding, it is common practice to de- 
nounce the UN and world opinion for its "double standard" in con- 
demning the U.S. "intervention" in defense of South Vietnam while 
ignoring the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, regularly described as 
"genocidal," a term never used in the mainstream media with regard 
to the United States in Indochina. 

At the time of the full-scale U.S. invasion of Vietnam, in 1965, when 
there was as yer no debate over the righteousness of the already massive 
"intervention," the United States had not yet succeeded in establishing 
a government able or willing to "invite it in." It appears that the United 
States simply moved in without even the formalities of request or 
acquiescence by a supposedly sovereign government. Nevertheless, at 
the dovish extreme of U.S. journalism, Tom Wicker, explaining his 
view that "the United States has no historic or God-given mission to 


bring democracy to other nations," observes that the matter is different 
in the case of the "maintenance of freedom" where it already exists: 

U.S. support for a democratic regime that is being attacked or 
subverted by repressive forces of the left or right might well be 
justified if invited—althoughj zn Vietnam, the "freedom" being 
defended may be minimal and the cost may be astronomical. 

As a dissident commentator, Wicker recognizes that the "freedom" we 
were defending in Vietnam was minimal and that the cost proved too 
high. But the doctrine that we were "invited in" remains sacrosanct, 
and the idea that we were "defending" nothing beyond our right to 
impose our will by violence is completely beyond the range of the 
thinkable. We might ask how we would characterize the Soviet media 
if the harshest condemnation of the war in Afghanistan that could be 
expressed in the year 2000 is that Soviet support for the democratic 
regime in Afghanistan that invited the Russians in might be justified, 
although the "freedom" that the Soviets were defending was perhaps 
minimal and the cost was far too high. 

Let us now turn to "the wild men in the wings" who adopt the 
principles universally accepted in the case of Soviet aggression when 
they approach the V.S. wars in Indochina. The basic facts are not in 
doubt. By the late 1940s, V.S. authorities took for granted that in 
backing France's effort to reconquer its Indochina colonies after World 
War II, they were opposing the forces of Vietnamese nationalism repre- 
sented by the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh. In 1947, the State 
Department noted that Ho had established himself as "the symbol of 
nationalism and the struggle for freedom to the overwhelming majority 
ofthe population. "2s By September 1948, the department deplored "our 
inability to suggest any practicable solution of the Indochina problem" 
in the light of "the unpleasant fact that Communist Ho Chi Minh is 
the strongest and perhaps the ablest figure in Indochina and that any 
suggested solution which excludes him is an expedient of uncertain 
outcome," the Communists under Ho having "capture[d] control ofthe 
nationalist movement," while the U.S. "long-term objective" was "to 
eliminate so far as possible Communist influence in Indochina. "29 
Nonetheless, the United States supported the cause of France against 
Vietnam, covering some 80 percent of the cost of the war at the end 
and contemplating a direct U.S. attack, had France agreed. 

When the French withdrew, in 1954, the United States at once turned 
to the task of subverting the Geneva agreements that laid the ground- 
work for unification of Vietnam with countrywide elections by 1956, 


establishing a client state in South Vietnam (the GVN) that controlled 
its population with substantial violence and rejected the terms of the 
Geneva political settlement, with U.S. support. State terrorism evoked 
renewed resistance, and by 1959, Viet Minh cadres in the South, who 
were being decimated by U.S. -organized state terror, received authori- 
zation to use violence in self-defense, threatening the quick collapse of 
the U.S. -imposed regime, which by then had killed tens of thousands 
of people and alienated much of the peasantry as well as urban ehtes. 
The Vietnam correspondent for the London Times and the Economist, 
David Hotham, wrote in 1959 that the Diem regime imposed by the 
United States 

has crushed all opposition of every kind) however anti-Commu- 
nist it might be. He has been able to do this, simply and solely 
because of the massive dollar aid he has had from across the 
Pacific, which kept in power a man who, by all the laws of 
human and political affairs, would long ago have fallen. Diem's 
main supporters are to be found in North America, not in Free 
Vietnam .... 30 

The leading U.S. government speciahst on Vietnamese Communism, 
Douglas Pike, whose denunciations of the "Viet Cong" often reached 
the level of hysteria, conceded that the NLF "maintained that its 
contest with the GVN and the United States should be fought out at 
the political level and that the use of massed military might was in itself 
illegitimate," until forced by the United States and its clients "to use 
counterforce to survive. -31 

The Kennedy administration escalated the war in South Vietnam, 
engaging U.S. military forces directly in bombing, defoliation, and 
"advising" combat troops from 1961 to 1962 as part of an effort to drive 
several milhon people into concentration camps ("strategic hamlets") 
in which they could be "protected" behind barbed wire and armed 
guard from the guerrillas whom, the United States conceded, they were 
willingly supporting. Douglas Pike assessed indigenous support for the 
NLF at about 50 percent of the population at the time-which is more 
than George Washington could have claimed-while the United States 
could rally virtually no indigenous support. He explained that political 
options were hopeless) since the NLF was the only "truly mass-based 
political party in South Vietnam," and no one, "with the possible 
exception ofthe Buddhists, thought themselves equal in size and power 
to risk entering a coalition, fearing that if they did the whale [the NLF] 
would swallow the minnow." As for the Buddhists, the United States 


regarded them "as eq-jivalent to card-carrying Communists" (Ambas- 
sador Henry Cabot Lodge), and later backed the use of force to destroy 
their pOhtical movement, to ensure that no independent political force 
would remain, since no such force could be controlled. In a highly 
regarded military history and moral tract in justification of the Ameri- 
can war, Guenter Lewy describes the purpose of the U.S. air operations 
of the early 1960s, which involved "indiscriminate killing" and "took 
a heavy toll of essentially innocent men, women and children," in a 
manner that Orwell would have appreciated: villages in "open zones" 
were "subjected to random bombardment by artillery and aircraft so as 
to drive the inhabitants into the safety of the strategic hamlets."33 

It was conceded on all sides that the government imposed by the 
United States lacked any significant popular support. The experienced 
U.S. pacification chief John Paul Vann, widely regarded as the U.S. 
official most knowledgeable about the situation in South Vietnam, 
wrote in 1965 that 

A popular pohtical base for the Government of South Vietnam 
does not now exist. . . . The existing government is oriented 
toward the exploitation of the rural and lower class urban popula- 
tions. It is, in fact, a continuation of the French colonial system 
of government with upper class Vietnamese replacing the French. 
. . . The dissatisfaction of the agrarian population ... is expressed 
largely through alliance with the NLF.34 

Virtually aE parties concerned, apart from the United States, were 
making serious efforts in the early 1960s to avoid an impending war by 
neutralizing South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia-the official stand of 
the National Liberation Front, the "Viet Cong" of U.S. propaganda, 
essentially the southern branch of the Viet Minh. But the United States 
was committed to preventing any political settlement. 

Unable to develop any political base in the south, the U.S. govern- 
ment proceeded to expand the war. It was able to do this by continually 
manipulating the political scene in South Vietnam to assure the attain- 
ment of its objective: continued fighting until an anti-Communist re- 
gime, susceptible to American will, was established in the South. 
Ambassador Lodge observed in January 1964 that "It is obvious that the 
generals are all we have got."^"' And we would keep replacing them until 
we got the right ones, "right" meaning that they were willing to follow 
orders and fight, not negotiate. One of Diem's early replacements told 
newsmen that he found out that he was going to be the next head of 
state only when his U.S. adviser "told me that a coup d'dtat was planned 


in Saigon and that I was to become President. ..." General Maxwell 
Taylor spoke quite frankly about the need of "establishing some rea- 
sonably satisfactory government," replacing it if we are not satisfied, 
either with civilians, or with "a military dictatorship. -36 

It should be noted in this connection that after the long-standing 
U.S. manipulation of governments in its client state had finally suc- 
ceeded in its aim, and the United States had placed in power two former 
French collaborators, Ky and Thieu, whose sole qualification for rule 
was that they met the U.S. condition ofwilhngness to fight and evade 
political settlement, the U.S. media continued to pretend that the gov- 
ernment of South Vietnam was a free choice of the South Vietnamese 
people.^' Thus the New York Times commented editorially on June 4, 
1966, that "Washington cannot shape the political future in Saigon, but 
it can continue to urge a search for unity among all the South Viet- 
namese political factions pending the September elections." In fact, the 
rulers at the moment had been imposed by the United States, the 
election was a U.S. idea, and-needless to say-the South Vietnamese 
who constituted the only "truly mass-based political party in South 
Vietnam" (Pike, referring to the NLF) were not considered one of the 
"South Vietnamese political factions." As for the "unity" sought by the 
United States, it was intended solely to provide a base for prosecution 
ofthe U.S. war. As that goal could be accomplished only by suppression 
of all popular movements, later in 1966 the military junta, with U.S. 
approval and direct assistance, crushed by force the largest non-Com- 
munist group, the organized Buddhists, thereby clearing the ground for 
durable rule by Thieu and Ky. Despite all of this, the U.S. media did 
not point out that any basis for a free election had been destroyed, and 
that the unelected government was maintained in power solely because 
its aims were identical to those ofthe U.S. administration-that is, that 
it was a classic example of a puppet govemment.^** On the contrary, the 
junta never ceased to be the leaders of free and independent South 
Vietnam, the word "puppet" being reserved for agents of enemy states. 

Returning to the expanding U.S. war, efforts to obtain congressional 
support succeeded with the August 7, 1964 resolution, after the Tonkin 
Gulf incident, authorizing the president "to take all necessary measures 
to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and 
to prevent further aggression" by the Vietnamese in Vietnam, "a virtual 
blank check in waging the war for the Administration."39 

The United States invaded outright in early 1965, also initiating the 
regular bombing of North Vietnam in the hope that Hanoi would use 
its influence to call off the southern resistance, and to justify the escala- 
tion of the attack against the South, which required something beyond 


the "internal aggression" by the NLF within South Vietnam that UN 
Ambassador Adiai Stevenson identified as the problem we faced.** By 
the time of the U.S. land invasion in 1965, over ISO, 000 people had been 
killed in South Vietnam, according to figures cited by Bernard Fall, 
most of them "under the crushing weight of American armor, napalm, 
jet bombers and finally vomiting gases," or victims of the state terrorism 
of the U.S. -installed regimes. ^1 From January 1965, the United States 
also employed Korean mercenaries, some 300,ooo in all, who carried 
out brutal atrocities in the South. The first regular North Vietnamese 
unit, a four-hundred-man battalion, was thought to have been detected 
in border areas of the south in late April 1965J until the Tet offensive 
in January 1968, according to Pentagon sources. North Vietnamese 
units, mainly drawing U.S. forces away from populated centers, were 
at about the level of Korean and Thai mercenaries who were terrorizing 
South Vietnam, all vastly outnumbered by the U.S. forces. 

By 1967, the war had reached such a level of devastation that, in 
Fall's words, "Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity ... is threatened 
with extinction . . . [as] . . . the countryside literally dies under the blows 
of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size."42 
The strategy of destroying South Vietnam was generally considered a 
success. Harvard professor and government adviser Samuel Hunting- 
ton concluded that "In an absent-minded way the United States in 
Vietnam may well have stumbled upon the answer to 'wars of national 
liberation,' " namely, "forced-draft urbanization and mobilization" by 
violence so extreme as "to produce a massive migration from country- 
side to city," thus "undercutting" the Maoist strategy of organizing the 
peasant population (over so percent of the population when these 
techniques were initiated) and undermining the Viet Cong, "a powerful 
force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the 
constituency continues to exist. "43 

The Tet offensive of January 1968, conducted almost entirely by 
South Vietnamese NLF forces in cities and towns throughout the 
country, convinced U.S. elites that the war was proving roo costly to 
the United States, and that strategy should shift toward a more "capi- 
tal-intensive" operation with reliance on an indigenous mercenary 
army (in the technical sense of the phrase) and gradual withdrawal of 
the U.S. forces, which were by then suffering a severe loss of morale, 
a maner of growing concern to military authorities. U.S. forces under- 
took a post-Tet "accelerated pacification campaign," in actuality a 
mass-murder operation that demolished the NLF and much of what 
was left of the peasant society while killing tens of thousands and 
extending the destruction of the country. Much of North Vietnam, 


particularly the southern region, was turned into a moonscape, and 
Laos was battered under the heaviest bombing in history, including the 
peasant society of northern Laos where, the U.S. government 
conceded, the bombing had no relation to its war in South Vietnam. 
The United States bombed and invaded Cambodia, destroying much of 
the countryside and mobilizing embittered peasants to the cause of the 
Khmer Rouge, previously a marginal force. By the war's end, the death 
toll in Indochina may have reached four milMon or more,** and the land 
and societies were utterly devastated. Subsequent U.S. policy has 
sought to prevent any recovery from this cataclysm by refusing repara- 
tions, aid, and trade, and blocking assistance from other sources - 
although not all aid: U.S. aid to the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s appears 
to have run to many millions. 

Applying the principles that we rightly adopt in the case of Soviet 
aggression, the conclusion seems obvious. The United States attacked 
South Vietnam, arguably by 1962 and unquestionably by 1965, expand- 
ing its aggression to all of Indochina with lethal and long-term effects. 
Media coverage or other commentary on these events that does not 
begin by recognizing these essential facts is mere apologetics for terror- 
ism and murderous aggression. The United States was "defending 
South Vietnam" in the same sense in which the Soviet Union is "de- 
fending Afghanistan." 

But from the point of view of the media, or "the culture," there is 
no such event in history as the U.S. attack against South Vietnam and 
the rest of Indochina. One would be hard put to find even an single 
reference within the mainstream to any such event, or any recognition 
that history could possibly be viewed from this perspective-just as 
Pravda, presumably, records no such event as the Soviet invasion of 
Afghanistan, only the defense of Afghanistan against "bandits" sup- 
ported by the CIA. Even at the peak period of peace-movement activ- 
ism there was virtually no opposition to the war within the intellectual 
culture on the grounds that aggression is wrong** — the. grounds univer- 
sally adopted in the case of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 
1968 -for a very simple reason: the fact of U.S. aggression was unrecog- 
nized. There was much debate during the war over whether the North 
Vietnamese were guilty of aggression in Vietnam, and as we have seen, 
even the South Vietnamese were condemned for "internal aggression" 
(Adlai Stevenson); but there was no discussion of whether the United 
States was guilty of aggression in its direct attack against South Viet- 
nam, then aU of Indochina. These intriguing facts reflect the over- 
whelming dominance of the state propaganda system and its ability to 
set the terms of thought and discussion, even for those who believe 


themselves to be taking an "adversarial stance." As for the media, 

departures from these doctrinal principles were negligible; indeed, they 
may well have been literally zero in the vast coverage and commentary 
on the war, while it was in progress or since. 

In a revealing article entitled "Lessons of Running Viets' War," 
published in August 1987, Stanley Karnow, a veteran Asia correspond- 
ent and author of a highly regarded liberal history of the Vietnam War, 
argues that the United States erred in Viemam because it allowed the 
Vietnamese people to depend too heavily on us.'^^ Reciprocally, the 
South Vietnamese people also "allowed themselves to be lulled into a 
complacent sense of dependency on the United States," thinking we 
wouldn't back down, not realizing that small clients are expendable. 
The South Viernamese people who fought the U.S. invasion are never 
mentioned, or considered to be "South Vietnamese" within Karnow's 
patriotic frame, although they constituted the majority of the popula- 
tion and the only serious political force, according to U.S. specialists 
and officials on the scene, and despite the fact that the U.S. -selected 
faction repeatedly stressed that "Frankly, we are not strong enough 
now to compete with the communists on a purely political basis."48 A 
Soviet Karnow would no doubt express similar concern in retrospect 
that the Soviet Union allowed the "Afghans" to rely too heavily on 
Soviet power. 

By the standards we rightly apply to the actions of the Soviet Union 
or other official enemies, there is nothing further that need be said 
about the media and Indochina. Any further discussion is on a par with 
the minor question of whether Pravda reports facts accurately about 
"the Soviet defense of Afghanistan." Adopting the Freedom House- 
Trilateral Commission perspective, a Communist party functionary 
might criticize Pravda for excessive pessimism or for too adversarial a 
stance, contributing to the eventual loss of the war and the takeover of 
Afghanistan by feudalist elements committed to terrorism, horrifying 
repression of women, religious fanaticism, plans to "march on Jerusa- 
lem," etc. Or if he found that the reporting was suffickntly upbeat and 
not too distorted, he might laud Pravda for its accuracy and objectivity. 
But all of this would be nonsense, whatever is discovered; serious 
evaluation of the media is effectively over when we discover that the 
basic principle of state propaganda-the principle that the USSR is 
defending Afghanistan from terrorist attack-is adopted as the unques- 
tioned framework for further reporting and discussion. The same is true 
in the case of U.S. aggression in Indochina. 

We cannot quite say that the propaganda model is verified in the case 
of the Indochina wars, since it fails to predict such extraordinary. 


far-reaching, and exceptionless subservience to the state propaganda 
system. The fact that this judgment is correct-as it plainly is-is 
startling enough. Even more revealing with regard to Western intellec- 
tual culture is that the simple facts cannot be perceived, and their 
import lies far beyond the bounds of the thinkable. 

Nevertheless, let us pursue the narrow question of media coverage 
of Indochina, bearing in mind that we are now turning to relatively 
minor matters, having taken note of a central and quite devastating 
criticism: the media's pervasive, docile, and unthinking acceptance of 
a set of patriotic assumptions at such a level as to make further com- 
mentary of secondary significance, at best. 


The "first Indochina war," fought by the French and their client forces 
and largely supplied by the United States, came to an end with the 
Geneva Accords of 1954, which established a partition at the 17th 
parallel pending reunification through elections within two years. The 
United States pledged not to obstruct these arrangements. 

The Geneva settlement was quickly undermined by the United 
States and its client regime because it was taken for granted on all sides 
that elections would lead to a xmified Vietnam under Viet Minh rule. 
"American intelligence sources were unanimous that Diem [the U.S.- 
imposed client] would lose any national election," George Kahin con- 
cludes from a close inspection of the available record. The Viet Minh 
had agreed to the Geneva decision for regroupment of its forces well 
to the north of territories it controlled on the basis of "the assurance 
that the struggle for the control of Vietnam would be transferred from 
the military to the political level, a realm in which the Vietminh leaders 
knew their superiority over the French and their Vietnamese collabora- 
tors was even greater than it was militarily For the Vietminh, this 

was the heart of the Geneva Agreements. "49 

The secret U.S. response to the perceived disaster of Geneva was a 
plan to resort to military action (including attacks on China if deemed 
necessary) in the event of "local Communist subversion or rebellion not 
constituting armed attack," in explicit violation of the UN Charter, 
which limits the use of force to self-defense in the event of "armed 
attack" until the UN Security Council is able to respond. This crucial 


decision, misrepresented beyond recogmtlOn in the Pentagon Papers 
history and generally ignored, also recommended operations against 
China, "covert operations on a large and effective scale" throughout 
Indochina (including North Vietnam), remilitarization of Japan, devel- 
opment of Thailand "as the focal point for U.S. covert and psychologi- 
cal operations in Southeast Asia," etc.^o Defense Secretary Robert 
McNamara observed in a memorandum for President Johnson that 

"Only the U.S. presence after 1954 held the south together and 

enabled Diem to refuse to go through with the 1954 provision calling 
for nationwide free elections in 1956."51 

Surveying the media during this period, Howard Elterman observes 
that "during a six-month period m 1955 and 1956, there was virtually 
no news coverage" about the U.S. policy of undermining the Geneva 
Accords in the New York Times and the three newsweeklies. Commu- 
nist charges to this effect were occasionally mentioned on back pages 
but dismissed as propaganda-accurate propaganda, in fact. When the 
evasion of elections was conceded, it was justified on the basis of 
Communist terror and regimentation. The Times (June 2, 1956) de- 
scribed Vietnam as a country "divided into the Communist regime in 
the north and a democratic government in the south" -namely, the 
murderous and corrupt Diem dictatorship. Newsweek denounced the 
"wide infiltration in South Vietnam" in support of the "implacable 
purpose" of the Viet Minh, while U.S. News & World Report con- 
demned Ho Chi Minh for "plouing new Red aggression in Southeast 

More generally, through 1956 "the press insured that the reading 
public: would view the war as a struggle between Communism and the 
Free World," Susan Welch observes on the basis of her survey of 
several leading journals. Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh were pre- 
sented as "merely agents of Moscow and Peking whose primary means 
of gaining support was through terror and force (although occasional 
mention was made of their nationalist appeal)," while France was "a 
gallant ally . . . fighting alongside the United States to preserve liberty 
and justice in Asia," a cause carried on by the United States alone after 
Geneva. State doctrine was "never challenged" by editors or colum- 
nists. The liberal press showed particular enthusiasm for the cause, and 
"News stories also reinforced the preconceptions of the Administra- 
tion," because "the press relied almost completely on Administration 
sources for information which was reported." Although coverage of 
Indochina was limited, apart from a peak in 1954, and faded still further 
afterwards, "the terms of the future debate over U.S. policy were being 
hardened into usage by the press. "53 



With peaceful settlement successfully deterred, the United States 
and its client regime turned to the task of internal repression, killing 
tens of thousands and imprisoning tens of thousands more.^"* Diem 
supporter and adviser Joseph Buttinger describes "massive expedi- 
tions" in 1956 that destroyed villages, with hundreds or thousands of 
peasants killed and tens of thousands arrested by soldiers in regions 
"controlled by the Communists without the slightest use offorce," facts 
that "were kept secret from the American people"-and still are. 55 

The main target of the repression was the anti-French resistance, the 
Viet Minh, which was virtually decimated by the late 1950s. The rea- 
sons for the resort to violence were simple and have been amply docu- 
mented. Recourse to violence was the only feasible response to the 
successes of the Viet Minh, reconstituted as the National Liberation 
Front (NLF), in organizing the peasantry, which left the United States 
only one option: to shift the struggle away from the political arena, 
where it was weak, to the arena of violence, where it was strong. Despite 
the U.S. -organized terror, the Communist party continued to advocate 
political action. The outline of strategy for the coming year sent to the 
South in late 1958 still called for political struggle without the use of 
arms.^'' As Jeffrey Race documents, when the Communist parry finally 
authorized the use of violence in self-defense in 1959 in response to 
pleas from the southern Viet Minh, the slaughter could no longer 
proceed unimpeded, and government authority quickly collapsed. 
Nevertheless, "... the government terrorized far more than did the 
revolutionary movement-for example, by liquidations of former Viet- 
minh by artillery and ground attacks on 'communist villages,' and by 
roundups of 'communist sympathizers.' " 

The fundamental source of strength for the revolutionary move- 
ment. Race continues, was the appeal of its constructive programs-for 
example, the land-reform program, which "achieved a far broader 
distribution of land than did the government program, and without the 
killing and terror which is associated in the minds of Western readers 
with communist practices in land reform." On the contrary, "the princi- 
pal violence was brought about not by the Party but by the government, 
in its attempts to reinstall the landlords "-the usual pattern, in fact, 
although not "in the minds of Western readers." The lowest economic 
strata benefited the most from the redistributive policies implemented. 
Authority was decentralized and placed in the hands of local people, 
in contrast to the rule of the U.S. client regime, perceived as "outside 
forces" by major segments of the local population: "what attracted 
people to the revolutionary movement was that it represented a new 
society in which there would be an individual redistribution of values. 


including power and status as well as material possessions." In Long 
An province, near Saigon, which Race studied intensively, the NLF had 
become dominant in the early 1960s, while the government apparatus 
and its armed forces dissolved without violent conflict, undermined by 
NLF organizing and propaganda. By late 1964, parts of the province 
were declared a free-strike zone, and by early 1965, "revolutionary 
forces had gained victory in nearly aU the rural areas of Long An. "58 
The first units of the "North Vietnamese aggressors" entered the 
province at the time of the 1968 Tet offensive. In fact, up to summer 
1969, when the post-Tet accelerated pacification campaign had suc- 
ceeded in decimating the indigenous resistance, U.S. sources reported 
about eight hundred North Vietnamese "against an estimated total of 
49,000 Vietcong soldiers and support troops" in the entire Mekong 
Delta. 59 

This picture and what it entails was essentially .invisible to the 
American public, and it is so remote from news coverage that sampling 
of the record is beside the point. The same remains true today outside 
of the specialist and dissident literature. 

The context of McNamara's observation cited earlier on the crucial 
U.S. role in blocking the election and unification provisions after Ge- 
neva was the "growth of antiwar and neutralist sentiment in the Saigon- 
controlled areas" in 1964. This came at a time when virtually all 
Vietnamese factions, along with international opinion generally, were 
seeking a political solution among Vietnamese that would head off the 
impending war to which the United States was committed because of 
its recognition that it had no political base in South Vietnam. 

The United States overturned the Diem regime in 1963 because of 
its ineptitude in conducting the war, as well as because of fears that it 
was moving toward a negotiated settlement with the NLF. There were 
few illusions about popular support for the U.S. efforts to maintain and 
extend the mihtary struggle. As for the generals, who are "all we have 
got," as Ambassador Lodge recognized in January 1964, U.S. policy- 
makers knew little about them. William Bundy, soon to become assist- 
ant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, later commented that 
"Actually no one on our side knew what the new people were thinking 

at aU Our requirements were really very simple- we wanted any 

government which would continue to fight." The generals, however, 
did not want to continue to fight. Rather, along with the prime minister 
installed as a civilian cover for the military regime, they "wanted to 
move as rapidly as possible towards transferring the struggle for power 
in the South from the military to the political level," leading to "a 
negotiated agreement among the Vietnamese parties themselves, with- 



out American intervention." They saw the NLF "as preponderantly 
noncommunist in membership" and largely independent of Hanoi's 
control, and regarded a political settlement among South Vietnamese 
as feasible in essential agreement with the official NLF program. 6i 

But none of this was acceptable to the United States. President 
Johnson explained to Ambassador Lodge that his mission was "knock- 
ing down the idea of neutralization wherever it rears its ugly head," 
because neutralism, as Ambassador Maxwell Taylor observed, "ap- 
peared to mean throwing the internal political situation open and thus 
inviting Communist participation" in a democratic process, here-as 
always-intolerable to the United States unless the right outcome is 
first determined by establishing a proper distribution offorce. 62 Ambas- 
sador Taylor feared as the worst outcome a government that would 
"continue to seek a broadened consensus" and would thus "become 
susceptible to an accommodation with the liberation front." After the 
war ended, senior Pentagon legal adviser Paul Warnke observed criti- 
cally in retrospect that "For the United States to 'compromise' and 
permit the indigenous forces of Vietnam to work their own way would 
be to condone the demise of the anti-Communist regime we had sup- 
ported in Saigon for twenty years." 

UN Secretary-General U Thant initiated a negotiation effort in the 
fall of 1964, with the support of Moscow and Hanoi and in accord with 
the consensus of Vietnamese as well as others, but it was rebuffed by 
Washington. As for the media, "It was not until after the die had been 
cast-not until March 9, 1965, after the United States had mounted its 
sustained air war against the North and landed the first U.S. ground 
forces in Vietnam-that The NfW York Times reported U Thant's 1964 

The U.S. position throughout was that "after, but only after, we have 
established a clear pattern of pressure," could peaceful means be con- 
sidered (William Bundy, Aug. 11, 1964; his emphasis). First violence, 
then-perhaps-recourse to the peaceful means required by interna- 
tionallaw and the supreme law of the land. The elections provision of 
the Geneva Accords had been officially described in a 1961 State De- 
partment white paper as "a well-laid trap" that the United States had 
skillfully evaded, and planners were in no mood to fall into such a 
"trap" in 1964, until the use of violence had secured their objectives.** 
Increasingly, U.S. planners turned to the policy of expanding the war 
to the North in the hope that this would compensate for their political 

No such conception of the evolving events, and their meaning, was 
ever made accessible through the mainstream media, which kept to the 


official line that the United States was pursuing limited measures "to 
strengthen South Vietnam against attack by the Communists," support- 
ing South Vietnam "against Communist aggression. "^^ 

In the New York Times version, the United States was leading "the 
free world's fight to contain aggressive Communism" (Robert Trum- 
bull), defending South Vietnam "against the proxy armies of Soviet 
Russia-North and South Vietnamese guerrillas" (Hanson Baldwin), 
just as the French had fought "a seven-and-a-half-year struggle" 
against "foreign-inspired and supplied Communists." In early 1965, 
President Johnson decided "to step up resistance to Vietcong infiltra- 
tion in South Vietnam" (Tom Wicker); the Vietcong "infiltrate" in their 
own country, while we "resist" this aggression. Since the South Viet- 
namese guerrillas were "trying to subvert this country" (David Halber- 
stam), it was natural that the Times supported the strategic-hamlet 
program as necessary despite the coercion and brutaiity; it was "con- 
ducted as humanely as possible" to offer the peasants "better protection 
against the Communists" (Halberstam, Homer Bigan). The peasant 
support for the South Vietnamese "aggressors" and the reasons for it 
were ignored. Hallin comments that in the entire Nev> York Times 
coverage from 1961 through September 1963, he found two "extremely 
brief references to land tenure.'^ 

While the print media did on occasion reflect the perceptions and 
opinions of American military officers in the field, arousing much irate 
condemnation thereby for their anti-Americanism and "negative re- 
poning," television was more obedient. Thus "the head of the Penta- 
gon's public-affairs office was able to assure Kennedy that the [NBC] 
network had been persuaded that it would be 'against the interest of the 
United States' to show its coverage of 'rough treatment by South 
Vietnamese soldiers to Viet-Cong prisoners, with a U.S. Army captain 
appearing in this sequence/ NBC's news director undertook to with- 
hold this film's scheduled appearance on the Huntley-Brinkley show, 
and to keep it on the shelf so far as any other programs were con- 
cerned. "61 

Until the expansion of the war in 1965 began to provoke some con- 
cern, the NLF and DRV were "treated almost exclusively as an arm 
of international Communism," Hallin found in his analysisi of the 
Times' s coverage. "The term civil war began to be used in 1965" and 
"the term aggression began to appear sometimes in quotation marks "- 
referring, of course, to Vietnamese aggression in Vietnam, the concept 
of American aggression being unimaginable, then or since. But concern 
over Vietnamese "aggression" never abated, as when James Reston 
discussed "the main point": "How, then, is this aggression by subver- 


sion to be stopped?" -referring to aggression by Vietnamese against the 
American invaders and their clients. Similarly, on television, even more 
conformist than the print media, Peter Jennings, showing Pentagon 
films on U.S. air attacks, commented that "This is the shape of things 
to come for Communist aggression in Vietnam," while NBC's Jack 
Perkins, reporting an air-force attack that wiped out a "village una- 
bashedly advertising itself with signs and flags as a Vietcong village," 
justified the attack as necessary: "The whole village had turned on the 
Americans, so the whole village was being destroyed." It is taken for 
granted that the Americans had every right to be marauding in a region 
of Vietnam where "Everything in this area for years was Vietcong." A 
television report on Operation Attleboro described the fighting as rag- 
ing "once again to preserve democracy."68 

Summarizing, from the late 1940s, the United States supported the 
French war of conquest; overturned the political settlement arranged 
at Geneva in 1954; established a terrorist client regime in the southern 
section of the country divided by foreign (i.e., U.S.) force; moved on 
to open aggression against South Vietnam by 1962 and worked desper- 
ately to prevent the political settlement sought by Vietnamese on all 
sides; and then invaded outright in 1965, initiating an air and ground 
war that devastated Indochina. Throughout this period, the media 
presented the U.S. intervention entirely within the framework pre- 
dicted by a propaganda model. 

There are, of course, those who demand still higher standards of 
loyalty to the state, and for them, the fact that critical perceptions of 
American military officers in the field sometimes reached public atten- 
tion is an intolerable "adversarial stance" reflecting the left-wing pro- 
clivities of "the culture." Putting this interesting perspective to the side, 
as far as this period is concerned we may dismiss the conception that 
the media "lost the war," although it would be quite accurate to con- 
clude that they encouraged the United States to enter and pursue a war 
of aggression, which they later were to regard as "a tragedy," or "a 
blunder," while never acknowledging their fundamental contribution to 
rallying public support for the policies that they were ultimately to 
deplore. Given the conformism and obedience of the media during this 
crucial period, when the basis for U.S. aggression was firmly and irrevo- 
cably laid, it is small wonder that public concern was so slight, and that 
opposition was so negligible as to be entirely without significance. Only 
the most ardent researcher could have developed a moderately clear 
understanding of what was taking place in Indochina. 

Public attitudes after the bombing of Norch Vietnam in February 


1965, in "reprisal" for an attack on U.S. military installations by the 
"Viet Cong," are therefore hardly surprising. Asked "Who do you think 
is behind the attacks by the Viet Cong?" 53 percent blamed the Chinese 
Communists and 26 percent blamed North Vietnam, while 7 percent 
said, "Civil war."69 In no identifiable sector of American opinion would 
it have been possible even to ask the obvious question that would 
receive an easy and accurate answer in the case of the Soviet invasion 
of Afghanistan: "Why do you think the southern resistance is attacking 
U.S. military installations in South Vietnam?" In fact, even at the peak 
of peace-movement activities -or today, many years later, when it 
should be possible to observe the plain facts with some detachment-it 
would be quite impossible to raise this simple and obvious question, or 
to answer it, within the mainstream media and most of "the culture." 

In this dismal record we see very clearly the consequences of mind- 
less media obedience in a state with enormous resources of violence. 


As the U.S. invasion mounted in scale and intensity, Indochina was 
flooded with war correspondents, many of whom reported what they 
saw and heard with honesty and courage. With rare exceptions, how- 
ever, they gave an account of the war as perceived by the U.S. military 
on the ground or as offered in press briefings. In the home offices, 
Washington's version preva.iled until elite divisions within the United 
States expanded the range of tactical debate. 

Reporters often did not conceal atrocities committed by the U.S. 
military forces, although they did not appear to perceive them as atroci- 
ties and surely did not express the horror and outrage that would have 
been manifest if others were the perpetrators, and the United States or 
its clients the victims.'"' Malcolm Browne quotes a U.S. official who 
describes B-52 strikes .in the South as "the most lucrative raids made 
at any time during the war"; 

Every single bomb crater is surrounded with bodies, wrecked 
equipment and dazed and bleeding people. At one such hole there 
were 40 or 50 men, all in green North Vietnamese uniforms but 
without their weapons, lying around in an obvious state of shock. 
We sent in helicopter gunships, which quickly put them out of 
their misery.VI 


The Geneva conventions require that "members of armed forces who 
have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, 
wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be 
treated humanely"; and there are no limits to the horror expressed, 
until today, over Communist treatment of U.S. pilots captured during 
the air operations that leveled much of North Vietnam. But the victims 
that the Nev? York Times is describing are Vietnamese carrying out 
aggression against Americans in Vietnam, so no such scruples are in 
order, and none were expressed. 

Similarly, there was little reaction when B-52 raids in "the populous 
[Mekong] delta" were reported in 1965, with unknown numbers of 
civilian casualties and hordes of refugees fleeing to government-con- 
trolled areas "because they could no longer bear the continuous bomb- 
ings."72 The victims fell under the category of "the unfortunate 
accidental loss of life incurred by the efforts of American military forces 
to help the South Vietnamese repel the incursion of North Vietnam and 
its partisans," as explained by Sidney Hook while condemning Bertrand 
Russell because he "plays up" these meritorious actions "as deliberate 
American atrocities."73 No doubt one can find similar remarks today in 
Pravda in commentary on Afghanistan by other commissars who are 
much admired as leading humanitarians because they courageously 
condemn the crimes of the United States and its alhes in Soviet 

Not only was there no reaction to these and subsequent atrocities, 
but there was also no attempt to place them in the context of what had 
immediately preceded-that is, to make them intelhgible. Indeed, there 
was little awareness of the background, because the media were so 
closely wedded to U.S. government goals and perceptions that they 
never sought to learn the facts. As the war progressed, ample evidence 
became available from U.S. government sources to explain why the 
United States had been forced to resort to violence in "the populous 
delta," as elsewhere, as we described in the preceding section. But such 
materials, inconsistent with the preferred image of the United States 
defending South Vietnam from Communist terror and aggression, had 
little impact on news reporting or commentary, except for occasional 
illustration of the difficulties faced by the United States in pursuing its 
noble cause. 

The reason for the U.S. resort to violence was overwhelmingly clear 
by the time of the outright U.S. invasion in 1965, and would have been 
no less clear before had any serious effort been made to determine the 
facts. As noted above, the United States was compelled by the political 
and social successes of the southern Viet Minh (NLF, "Viet Cong") to 


shift the struggle away from the political arena, where it was weak, to 
the arena of violence, where it was strong, a typical response to a classic 

It is in this context that we can understand the resort to B-S2 raids 
in "the populous delta" and elsewhere to destroy the civilian base of 
the indigenous enemy, expanding the failed efforts of the strategic- 
hamlet program and earlier terror. The U.S. media continued to report 
the subsequent atrocities, but from the standpoint of the aggressors. 
One had to turn to the foreign press to find reports from zones held by 
the South Vietnamese enemy-for example, those of the pro-Western 
correspondent Katsuichi Honda, who reported in the Japanese press in 
the fall of 1967 from the Mekong Delta, describing attacks against 
undefended villages by gunboats in the Mekong River and helicopter 
gunships "firing away at random at farmhouses," "using the farmers for 

targets as if in a hunting mood": "They are hunting Asians . This 

whimsical firing would explain the reason why the surgical wards in 
every hospital in the towns of the Mekong delta were full of wounded." 
His reports were available only to readers of antiwar literature, not the 
"objective" media, which had no interest in how the war might appear 
from the standpoint of the Vietnamese victims of the attack by the 
United States and the local forces it established.'''* 

The media continued to observe and discuss atrocities blandly, not 
considering them as controversial or as raising any moral issue-in fact, 
not regarding them as atrocities at all, although we detect no such 
reserve with regard to the violence of official enemies. The respected 
columnist Joseph Harsch describes the frustrations of an American 
pilot dropping bombs "into a leafy jungle" with "no visible result" and 
without "the satisfaction of knowing what he achieved": 

A hit on a big hydroelectric dam is another matter. There is a huge 
explosion visible from anywhere above. The dam can be seen to 
fall. The water can be seen to pour through the breach and drown 
out huge areas of farm land, and villages, in its path. The pilot who 
takes out a hydroelectric dam gets back home with a feeling of 
accomplishment. Novels are written and films are made of such 
exploits. . . . The bombing which takes out the dam wiU flood 
villages, drown people, destroy crops, and knock out some electric 
power Bombing the dam would hurt people. 

Nevertheless, it is better to bomb trucks, he concludes, although there 
would plainly be no moral barrier to the much more satisfying alterna- 
tive rejected on tactical grounds. 


In the South, bombing of dikes and virtually limitless destruction 
was an uncontroversial tactic, as in the Batangan Peninsula, where 
12,000 peasants (including, it appears, the remnants of the My Lai 
massacre) were forced from their homes in an American ground sweep 
in January 1969 and shipped off to a waterless camp near Quang Ngai 
over which floated a banner saying: "We thank you for liberating US 
from Communist terror." The Times reported that the refugees had 
lived "in caves and bunkers for many months" because "heavy Ameri- 
can bombing and artillery and naval shelling" had destroyed their 
homes, as well as a dike that was "blasted by American jets to deprive 
the North Vietnamese [sic] of a food supply." It was left unrepaired, 
so that two years later "the salt water of the South China Sea continues 
to submerge the fields where rice once grew." The reason, according 
to an American official, is that the people "were written off as commu- 
nists," and for the same reason the region was left in ruins: "the hills 
that overlook the flooded paddies, once scattered with huts, are . . . 
filled with bomb fragments, mines and unexploded artillery shells," and 
"B-52 craters nearly 20 feet deep pock the hills."76 

Bombing of dikes in the North, occasionally reported," was contro- 
versial, as was the bombing of North Vietnam generally. The reason is 
that the cost to the United States might be high because of a potential 
Chinese or Soviet response, regarded as a serious and dangerous possi- 
bility, or because of the impact on international opinion. But these 
questions did not arise in the case of U.S. terror against the South 
Vietnamese, which therefore proceeded without notable concern or, it 
seems, much in the way of planning. In the Pentagon Papers, we find 
extensive discussion and debate over the escalation of the bombing 
against the North, while there is virtually nothing about the far more 
destructive bombing, defoliation, destruction of vast areas by Rome 
plows, etc., in South Vietnam, where we were "saving" the population 
from "aggression." With regard to South Vietnam, the planning record 
is limited to the question of deployment of U.S. troops, which again 
raised potential costs to the United States.^' 

The most notable exception to the easy tolerance of atrocities perpe- 
trated against South Vietnamese was the My Lai massacre, in March 
1968, reported at once by the NLF among other massacres that are still 
not acknowledged or discussed. Details were disclosed in Paris in June 
1968, but neglected by the media until November 1969 despite extensive 
efforts by helicopter gunner Ronald Ridenhour to publicize the story, 
which finally broke through to the general public, thanks to the persist- 
ence of Seymour Hersh, at the time of a massive demonstration in- 
Washington, when media attention was focused cn antiwar protest. The 


massacre was a footnote to the post-Tet accelerated pacification cam- 
paign, and minor in context. More revealing was the massacre at nearby 
My Khe, with ninety civiUans reported dead, discovered by the Peers 
Panel inquiry into the My Lai massacre; proceedings against the officer 
in charge were dismissed on the grounds that this was merely a normal 
operation in which a village was destroyed and its population murdered 
or forcibly relocated, a decision that tells us all we need to know about 
the American war in South Vietnam, but that passed without com- 

While the nation agonized about the sentencing of Lieutenant Wil- 
liam Calley for his part in the My Lai massacre, a new ground sweep 
in the same area drove some 16,000 peasants from their homes, and a 
year later the camp where the My Lai remnants were relocated in this 
operation was largely destroyed by air and artillery bombardment, the 
destruction attributed to the Viet Cong. 8' These events too passed with 
little notice, and no calls for an inquiry-reasonably enough, since 
these too were normal and routine operations. 

Medical workers at the nearby Canadian-run hospital reported that 
they knew of the My Lai massacre at once but gave it little attention 
because it was not out of the ordinary in a province (Quang Ngai) that 
had been virtually destroyed by U.S. military operations. The highest- 
ranking officer to have faced court-martial charges for the massacre, 
Colonel Oran Henderson, stated that "every unit of brigade size has its 
Mylai hidden some place," although "every unit doesn't have a Riden- 
hour" to expose what had happened. **2 Knowledgeable elements of the 
peace movement also gave the My Lai massacre no special notice, for 
the same reasons. 

The reasons why this particular massacre became a cause cfilibre 
were explained by Newsweek's Saigon bureau chief Kevin Buckley, 
referring to Operation Wheeler Wallawa, with 10,000 enemy reported 
killed, including the victims of My Lai, who were listed in the official 
body count: 

An examination of that whole operation would have revealed the 
incident at My Lai to be a particularly gruesome application of a 
wider poMcy which had the same effect in many places at many 
times. Of course, the blame for that could not have been dumped 
on a stumblebum lieutenant. Calley was an aberration, but 
"Wheeler Wallawa" was not. 

The real issue concerning this operation, Buckley cabled to the U.S. 
office of Newsweek, was not the "indiscriminate use of firepower," as 


is often alleged. Rather, "it is charges of quite discriminating use-as 
a matter of policy, in populated areas," as in this operation or many 
others, among them Operation Speedy Express, with thousands of 
civilians murdered and many others driven to refugee and prison camps 
by such devices as B-52 raids targeted specifically on villages. 

An experienced U.S. official, cited by Buckley, compared My Lai to 
the exploits of the U.S. Ninth Infantry Division in a range of similar 

The actions ofthe 9th Division in inflicting civilian casualties were 
worse. The sum total of what the 9th did was overwhelming. In 
sum, the horror was worse than My Lai. But with the 9th, the 
civilian casualties came in dribbles and were pieced out over a long 
time. And most of them were inflicted from the air and at night. 
Also, they were sanctioned by the command's insistence on high 

body counts The result was an inevitable outcome ofthe unit's 

command policy.53 

In short, the My Lai massacre was ignored when it occurred, and the 
substantial attention given to it later is a more subtle form of cover-up 
of atrocities. An honest accounting, inconceivable in the media or "the 
culture" generally, would have placed the responsibility far higher than 
Lieutenant Calley, but it was more convenient to focus attention on the 
actions of semi-crazed GI's in a gruesome combat situation with every 
Vietnamese civilian a threatening enemy. My Lai did not prompt the 
media generally-there were some individual exceptions-to take a 
deeper look at the nature ofthe war, or to display an interest in reports 
of similar events in nearby areas that suggested its unexceptional char- 
acter. This particular massacre was made exceptional by an arbitrary 
cutoff of attention and refusal to investigate beyond narrowly circum- 
scribed limits. The limited but dramatized attention to My Lai was even 
used to demonstrate the conscience of America, in the face of enemy 
provocations. Thus a 1973 New York Times report from My Lai de- 
scribes the "battered Batangan peninsula," an area where the inhabi- 
tants were "generally supporters ofthe Vietcong," now demolished by 
U.S. bombardment and ground operations: "big guns fire into the pe- 
ninsula as they have again and again over the eight years that American, 
South Korean and South Vietnamese forces have been trying to make 
it safe." The report quotes villagers who accuse the Americans of 
having killed many people here: "They are in no position to appreciate 
what the name My Lai means to Americans, " the reporter adds thought- 


The Standard critique of the media for having "lost the war" identi- 
fies television as the major culprit. Television analyst Edward Jay 
Epstein formulates the standard view as follows: 

Over the past 10 years, almost nightly, Americans have witnessed 
the war in Vietnam, on television. Never before in history has a 
nation allowed its citizens to view uncensored scenes of combat, 
destruction and atrocities in their living rooms, in living color. 
Since television has become the principal-and most believed- 
source of news for most Americans, it is generally assumed that 
the constant exposure of this war on television was instrumental 
in shaping public opinion. 1 1 has become almost a truism, and the 
standard rhetoric oftelevision executives, to say that television, by 
showing the terrible truth of the war, caused the disillusionment 

of Americans with the war . This has also been the dominant 

view of those governing the Nation during the war years. . . . 
Depending on whether the appraisal has come from hawk or dove, 
television has thus been either blamed or applauded for the disil- 
lusionment of the American public with the war.^^ 

There have been several studies of the matter, suggesting a rather 
different picture. We will return to some of these issues in discussing 
the coverage of the Tet offensive, but we should observe that there are 
some rather serious questions about the standard formulations. Sup- 
pose that some Soviet investigators were to conduct an inquiry into 
coverage of the war in Afghanistan to determine whether Pravda 
should be blamed or applauded for the disillusionment of the Soviet 
public with the war? Would we consider such an inquiry to be mean- 
ingful without consideration of both the costs and the justice of the 

Epstein notes an obvious "logical problem" with the standard view: 
for the first six years oftelevision coverage, from 1962 and increasingly 
through 1967, "the American public did approve of the war in Vietnam" 
according to polls. Furthermore, in a 1967 Harris poll for Newsvwek, "64 
per cent of the nation wide sample said that television's coverage made 
them more supportive of the American effort, and only 26 per cent said 
that it had intensified their opposition," leading the journal to conclude 
that "TV has encouraged a decisive majority of viewers to support the 

Epstein's review ofhis and other surveys oftelevision newscasts and 
commentary during this period explains why this should have been the 
case. "Up until 1965," he writes, "the network anchor men seemed 



unanimous in support of American objectives in Vietnam," and most 
described themselves as "hawks" until the end, while the most notable 
"dove," Walter Cronkite, applauded "the courageous decision that 
Communism's advance must be stopped in Asia" in 1965 and later 
endorsed the initial U.S. commitment "to stop Communist aggression 
wherever it raises its head." In fact, at no time during the war or since 
has there been any detectable departure from unqualified acceptance 
of the U.S. government propaganda framework; as in the print media, 
controversy was limited to tactical questions and the problem of costs, 
almost exclusively the cost to the United States. 

The network anchormen not only accepted the framework of inter- 
pretation formulated by the state authorities, but also were optimistic 
about the successes achieved in the U.S. war of defense against Viet- 
namese aggression in Vietnam. Epstein cites work by George Baily, who 
concludes: "The results in this study demonstrate the combat reports 
and the government statements generally gave the impression that the 
Americans were in control, on the offense and holding the initiative, at 
least until Tet of 1968," a picture accepted by the network anchormen. 
Television "focused on [the] progress" of the American ground forces, 
supporting this picture with "film, supplied by the Pentagon, that 
showed the bombing of the North" and "suggesting that the Americans 
were also rebuilding South Vietnam" -while they were systematically 
destroying it, as could be deduced inferentially from scattered evidence 
for which no context or interpretation was provided. NBC's "Huntley- 
Brinkley Report" described "the American forces in Vietnam as 
'builders' rather than destroyers," a "central truth" that "needs under- 

What made this especially deceptive and hypocritical was the fact, 
noted earlier, that the most advanced and cruel forms of devastation 
and killing-such as the free use of napalm, defoliants, and Rome 
plows-were used with few constraints in the South, because its popu- 
lation was voiceless, in contrast with the North, where international 
publicity and political complications threatened, so that at least visible 
areas around the major urban centers were spared. 

As for news coverage, "all three networks had definite policies about 
showing graphic film of wounded American soldiers or suffering Viet- 
namese civilians," Epstein observes. "Producers of the NBC and ABC 
evening-news programs said that they ordered editors to delete exces- 
sively grisly or detailed shots," and CBS had similar policies, which, 
according to former CBS News president Fred W. Friendly, "helped 
shield the audience from the true horror of the war." "The relative 
bloodlessness of the war depicted on television helps to explain why 


only a minority in the Lou Harris-Newsweek poll said that television 
increased their dissatisfaction with the war"; such coverage yielded an 
impression, Epstein adds, of "a clean, effective technological war," 
which was "rudely shaken at Tet in 1968." As noted earlier, NBC 
withdrew television clips showing harsh treatment of Viet Cong prison- 
ers at the request of the Kennedy administration. 

Throughout this period, furthermore, "television coverage focused 
almost exclusively on the American effort." There were few interviews 
with GVN military or civiUan leaders, "and the Vietcong and North 
Vietnamese were almost nonexistent on American television news- 

There was one famous exception to the sanitizing of the war, an 
August 5, 1965, CBS report by Morley Safer showing U.S. Marines 
burning huts in the village of Cam Ne with cigarette lighters, which 
elicited "a semiofficial campaign" by the Pentagon "to discredit the 
television story and vilify the correspondent as 'unpatriotic.'" But 
surveys of television newscasts by Epstein and Wisconsin Professor 
Lawrence Lichty show that "instances shown on TV of American 
brutality toward the South Vietnamese, such as Cam Ne, 'could be 
counted on one hand' [Lichty]," "even though hundreds of South 
Vietnamese villages were destroyed during this period." "The Cam Ne 
story is famous for being the exception to the rule." 

Returning soldiers told a different story, and it became increasingly 
clear, although not through the medium of television, that the war was 
bloody and brutal, leading to "disillusionment"-and among a large 
sector of the general population, increasingly "out of control," a much 
stronger and more appropriate reaction. 

But, Epstein continues, "the televised picture of gradual progress in 
the war was abruptly shattered by the Communist [Tet] offensive" in 
January-February 1968, when the military lost its "control over the 
movements of the press," who could step outside their hotels and find 
"themselves willy-nilly in the midst of bloody fighting." For this brief 
moment, correspondents sent on-the-spot reports that were aired in 
place of "the usual carefully edited view of an orderly, controlled war," 
and the policy of "shield[ing] American viewers from the grisly close- 
ups of wounded Americans, body bags and death" briefly collapsed, 
though newscasts continued to be edited in home offices as "too 
strong," in the words of NBC producer Robert Northshield. This cov- 
erage convinced Walter Cronkite that the war had become "a bloody 
stalemate," in a controversial report to which we will return. 

The Tet offensive convinced U.S. elites that the war was becoming 
too costly to the United States, and the government shifted toward the 


policy of "Vietnamization," large-scale massacre operations to destroy 
the indigenous resistance and its civilian base, expansion of the war in 
Laos and Cambodia, and the commencement of negotiations with 
North Vietnam. "Accordingly, the networks again changed the focus of 
their coverage, this time from the battlefields in Vietnam to the negotia- 
tion tables in Paris The 'story' was now the negotiations, not the 

fighting," Northshield explained, adding that "combat stories seemed 
like a contradiction and would confuse the audience." "Similar deci- 
sions were made at the other networks," Epstein adds, as all "altered 
their coverage in late 1969 from combat pieces to stories about the 
'Vietnamization' of the war" and the negotiations in Paris. The post- 
Tet accelerated pacification campaign.^ one of the most crucial and 
murderous operations in the U.S. war against South Vietnam, received 
little attention. 

Epstein believes that "there is a marked difference between the 
coverage of the formative years of the war (1962-1967) and the later 
years (when the antiwar movement was at its height)." "Up until 1968, 
television coverage was controlled to a large extent by the American 
military, and generally it reflected a controlled American initiative 
which seemed to be winning the countryside and decimating the Viet- 
cong. The searchlight rarely focused on related questions, such as the 
sufferings of Vietnamese civilians." During the Tet offensive, the focus 
changed to Americans "shown on the defensive, endangered and help- 
lessly frustrated," then to "the story of the American withdrawal" as 
"negotiations began at the end of 1968." The differences, however, are 
misleading. Apart from the hve coverage during the Tet offensive, there 
is very little departure from the principle that the war must be viewed 
from the standpoint determined by official Washington doctrine- a 
standpoint that broadened in scope after Tet, as tactical disagreements 
arose within elite circles. 

In his survey of network newscasts from 1965 through the January 
1973 peace treaty, Daniel Hallin reaches similar conclusions. Until the 
Tet offensive, television coverage was "lopsidedly favorable to Ameri- 
can policy in Vietnam," well beyond even the "remarkably docile" print 
media. Like Epstein, he notes the "dramatic" change after Tet, "part 
of a larger change, a response to as well as a cause of the unhappiness 
with the war that was developing at many levels, from the halls of the 
Pentagon, to Main Street, U.S.A. and the fire bases of Quang Tri 
province"-and, much more crucially, the unhappiness that had be- 
come quite significant by 1968 among business elites, leading to the 
changes in U.S. government policy already discussed. "Before Tet, 
editorial comments by television journalists .jran nearly four to one in 


favor of administration policy; after Tet, two to one against," reflecting 
divisions in the "establishment itself." He quotes New York Times 
editor Max Frankel, who said in an interview that "we're an establish- 
ment institution, and whenever your natural constituency changes, then 
naturally you will too." The same was true of television, and it is hardly 
surprising-and quite in accord with the propaganda model-that its 
fervent loyalty to the administration changed when "the establishment 
bastards have bailed out," as Lyndon Johnson put it bitterly after the 
"Wise Men" advised him in March 1968 to abandon hope of military 
victory and to de-escalate the conflict, in the wake of the Tet offen- 
sive, s? 

Television typically presented events in terms of "a kind of morality 
play, ... a dramatic contrast between good, represented by the Ameri- 
can peace offensive [in 1966], and evil, represented by Hanoi." Report- 
ing was relatively bloodless, focusing on the successes of "the 'good 
guys': American boys in action," regularly depicted as "brave men," 
"the greatest men in the worldj'* "heroes," exuding competence, hu- 
manity, and high morale as they fight against "Communist aggression" 
in the "battle for democracy," and "win hearts and minds" by caring 
for sick and injured civilians after a village "was burned and blasted to 
death"-properly, because ammunition had been found there, which 
"was enough proof of its being used by the Vietcong" (Greg Harris, 
NBC-TV, Oct. 27, 1967). The issue of racism "was apparently too 
sensitive to touch," Hallin adds, noting that he found no "comment on 
the hostility that many American soldiers felt towards all Vietnamese, 
a prominent theme in veterans' recollections of the war." 

The focus of coverage was the Americans: soldiers bravely defending 
Vietnam, medics caring for the wounded, pacification officials rebuild- 
ing after the damage for which Communist terror bore responsibility. 
"Our South Vietnamese" were virtually ignored, with virtually nothing 
on political, economic, or social affairs, and "the peasant figured in the 
news mainly as a victim and prize of the conflict." The political opposi- 
t.ion in Vietnam was portrayed with considerable hostility, "like the 
antiwar movement at home." They were "forces of anarchy ... on the 
march" (Walter Cronkite, CBS-TV, Mar. 31, 1966). The utterly fraudu- 
lent elections were portrayed as a triumph as democracy, courageously 
carried out in defiance of the disruptive attacks of "Vietcong terror- 

Civilian casualties were downplayed, or regarded as unavoidable side 
consequences of "a job that had to be done," raising no moral question. 
Observing an air strike on a village of "unabashed" Viet Cong support- 
ers after a column of American soldiers had drawn fire, NBC's Jack 



Perkins commented: "There was no discriminating one house from 
another. There couldn't be, and there did not need to be. The whole 
village had turned on the Americans, so the whole village was being 
destroyed," as is only right and just. In a follow-up on the Cam Ne 
incident, Dan Rather offers a comment that Hallin cites as an example 
of "a muckraking tone," the harshest he presents: the marines are 
holding Cam Ne 

by force, not through the pacification program . . . [which] hasn't 
taken hold in Cam Ne. And until it does take hold here and a lot 
of other places in South Vietnam, nobody can feel very good about 
this dirty little war. 

In short, as long as there is still resistance to American violence, we 
cannot feel good about proceeding with our necessary chores; such 
comments as these presumably account for Rather's reputation among 
the "doves" as a courageous opponent of the war, and among the 
"hawks" as a dangerous leftist. Walter Cronkite reported "an urgent 
plea from the Vietcong for medical and surgical supplies" to the Inter- 
national Red Cross, "an indication that our bombing raids and infantry 
sweeps are taking a heavy toll of all kinds of Red equipment. 

Reporting of civilian casualties rose from 1966 to a peak in early 1968, 
then declined sharply as the United States turned to the murderous 
accelerated pacification campaign, which Hallin does not discuss, pre- 
sumably because it was largely ignored by television, which had shifted 
attention to the negotiating tables in Paris in accordance with Washing- 
ton priorities. The coverage rose again in 1972, when casualties could 
be attributed to a North Vietnamese offensive and the U.S. "response." 
In a 1971 CBS documentary entitled "The Changing War in Indo- 
china," Charles Collingwood reported the progress of the pacification 
campaign in Kien Hoa Province in the Mekong Delta- "once an NLF 
stronghold," Hallin observes. This province had been the target of 
Operation Speedy Express in early I969j one of the most brutal Ameri- 
can operations of the war in an area that had been organized under 
NLF control with no known North Vietnamese presence, conquered 
through the "awesome firepower" ofthe Ninth Division. This included 
air strikes using napalm, high explosives, and anti-personnel bombs, 
B-52 bombing, and artillery shelling "around the clock" at a level that 
"it is impossible to reckon," with armed helicopters "scouring the 
landscape from the air night and day" and accounting for "many and 
perhaps most of the enemy kills"-about 11,000 according to the U.S. 
command, with 748 weapons captured, a fair indication of who was 


killed.''* Collingwood was pleased to observe progress in pacification, 
although there was still "Indian country" beyond. "This is almost like 
St. Louis on the move into the frontier," his companion, a U.S. govern- 
ment adviser replied, in a reference that is more accurate than he 
probably knew.*" 

In contrast to the heroic and humane image of the American soldiers 
defending democracy, the NLF and North Vietnamese were portrayed 
in "an almost perfectly one-dimensional image ... as cruel, ruthless and 
fanatical." Of twelve positive comments by journalists that he found 
throughout the war, Hallin remarks, "10 concerned the effectiveness of 
enemy forces: this was the only element of television's image of the 
enemy that changed substantially" in the course of the pOSt-Tet shift, 
mirroring establishment qualms about the prospects for the success of 
American arms. "What did not change was the dark picture of evil." 
When U.S. forces burned villages, this was a necessity because they 
provided cover and support for the Viet Congo The results of B-52 
saturation bombing were a "tragedy of war." But when a North Viet- 
namese artillery shell hit an orphanage in An Hoa in October 1970, 
ABC's George Watson commented with horror: "No one was prepared 
for the massacre, the irrational murder that the North Vietnamese 
inflicted on An Hoa." Although civilian casualties were overwhelmingly 
the result of U.S. firepower, attribution of responsibility by television 
was weighted by a 10 to 7 ratio to the account of the enemy; its 
"calculatedpo/j'cy of terror" contrasted with the unfortunate but legiti- 
mate side-effects of U.S. operations. Even military operations of the 
enemy were "terrorism." Reporting on a Viet Cong ambush of an 
American patrol, ABC's Peter Jennings recounted "another of those 
small but {and here he paused a moment for dramatic effect] harrowing 
VC butcheries" (October, 1965). The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong 
were portrayed as "savage," "brutal," "murderous," "fanatical," "sui- 
cidal," "halfcrazed," mere vermin in areas that were "Communist in- 
fested" or "Vietcong infested," and thus had to be cleansed by the 
American liberators. 

The style and technique are familiar in state propaganda of aU 

Overall, Hallin concludes from his survey, television never veered 
from the official interpretation of the war as "a struggle to defend 
democracy against aggression." In the early years, it was taken for 
granted that 

we would surely win, not only because we were more powerful but 
because the right was clearly on our side. Television held this view 



Strongly, perhaps more strongly than the public itself. It didn't 
work out that way, and eventually television brought the bad 
news. But it never explained why: it never reexamined the as- 
sumptions about the nature of the war it had helped to propagate 
in the early years. So to the public, the bad news must have 
seemed nearly as incomprehensible as an earlier "American de- 
feat" in Asia: the "loss" of China. 

Attribution of the American failure by the public to "treason" or "lack 
of American will" caused by the failure ofthe media to support our just 
cause with sufficient fervor is, therefore, "hardly surprising. "93 

This may well explain why the public has apparently been willing to 
accept the tales about media treachery. But among the educated elites, 
the explanation may lie elsewhere: in a totalitarian cast of mind that 
regards even the actual level of media subservience to the state as 
inadequate and a threat to order and privilege by the "forces of anarchy 
on the march." 


5.5.1. The Tonkin Gulf incident 

By mid-1964, there was a growing consensus among Vietnamese in 
favor of a negotiated political settlement, while the United States was 
maneuvering with increasing desperation to evade what internal docu- 
ments describe as "premature negotiations." The reason, as frankly 
explained, was that the United States was politically isolated, in opposi- 
tion to the NLF, the non-Communist opposition, and even the gener- 
als. It was therefore regarded as necessary to expand the war to the 
North to "obtain [the DRV'sJ cooperation in bringing an end to the 
Viet Cong insurgency" and to "persuade or force the DRV to stop its 
aid to the Viet Cong and use its directive powers to make the Viet Cong 
desist" (Ambassador Maxwell Taylor). Intelligence, meanwhile, con- 
cluded that "the basic elements of Communist strength in South Viet- 
nam remain indigenous."'* 

U.S. -run military operations against North Vietnam began on Feb- 


ruary I, 1964 (OPLAN-34A), using South Vietnamese and "third-coun- 
try" mercenaries, "presumably mostly Nationalist Chinese," according 
to Kahin. These operations were officially "designed to result in sub- 
stantial destruction, economic loss, and harassment. "95 On July 30-31, 
Saigon Navy vessels attacked North Vietnamese islands, eliciting an 
official DRV protest to the International Control Commission on July 
31. The U.S. destroyer Maddox^ conducting an electronic espionage 
operation in that general area, entered the twelve-mile zone regarded 
by North Vietnam as its territorial waters on August 2. The Maddox 
was challenged by North Vietnamese patrol boats, fired "warning 
shots," and was hit by a single bullet in the ensuing battle, in which the 
patrol boats were damaged or destroyed by the destroyer and U.S. 
aircraft. On August 3, Secretary of State Dean Rusk sent a (secret) cable 
to Ambassador Taylor, stating that "We believe that present Op Plan 
34 A activities are beginning to rattle Hanoi, and Maddox incident is 
directly related to their efforts to resist these activities." The Maddox 
was returned to the area along with the destroyer Turner Joy on August 
3, and on August 3 and 4 Saigon naval vessels bombarded North Viet- 
namese coastal facilities, "quite possibly one that the destroyer's elec- 
tronic surveillance had activated and located," Kahin observes. There 
was some indication that the U.S. destroyers might have come under 
attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats on August 4, although Captain 
John Herrick of the Maddox was unsure, and radioed that reports 
"appear very doubtful" and that there were "No actual sightings by 
Maddox," recommending "complete evaluation before any further ac- 
tion." Subsequent evidence indicates that almost certainly no attack 
took place. 96 

On August 5, President Johnson publicly denounced the "open ag- 
gression on the high seas against the United States of America" by the 
North Vietnamese, while the DRV and China stated that "the so-called 
second Tonkin Gulf incident of 4 August never occurred" (Chinese 
government statement). On August 5, U.S. planes bombed North Viet- 
namese instalJations and destroyed North Vietnamese patrol boats. 
After testimony by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in which he 
falsely claimed that the Maddox "was operating in international waters, 
was carrying out a routine patrol of the type we carry out all over the 
world at all times," Congress passed a resolution authorizing the presi- 
dent to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against 
the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression" (416 
to a in the House, Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening alone in opposi- 
tion in the Senate). This August 7 resolution was subsequently ex- 


ploited as the basis for the escalation of the U.S. attack against Viet- 

"The Gulf of Tonkin incident," Hallin observes, "was a classic of 
Cold War news management .... On virtually every important point, 

the reporting of the two Gulf of Tonkin incidents was either 

misleading or simply false"-and in accordance with the needs of the 
U.S. executive at that crucial moment. The Nets York Times had re- 
ported sabotage missions against the North as recently as July 23, and 
reported Hanoi's August 2 protest of an attack on North Vietnamese 
villages by Laotian Air Force planes, but neither the Times nor the 
Washington Post mentioned these facts "either at the time of the inci- 
dents or in the weeks that followed, aside from inconspicuous sidebars 
on Hanoi's 'allegations' [which were accurate, but dismissed] and a 
passing reference" in a column by James Reston. The reporting was 
"objective" in that it correctly reported U.S. government statements, 
raising no question about them, presenting no relevant background, and 
marginally citing Communist denials while proceeding to report the 
events as Washington wished them to be perceived.^^ 

In subsequent weeks, the Times published a number of brief refer- 
ences to what was "charged" or "asserted" in the generally accurate 
reports from North Vietnam, which were rejected and dismissed by 
reporters while front-page stories and headlines presented the false 
Washington version as fact, with much speculation about Hanoi's mo- 
tives in sending a few patrol boats to attack the mighty U.S. Seventh 
Fleet. The relevant background continued to be ignored or buried with 
marginal references in back pages. The criticism by Senator Morse was 
barely mentioned, and dismissed. There was no hint of administration 
doubts that the August 4 incident had even taken place. 

The newsweeklies adhered still more rigidly to the government prop- 
aganda line, even providing vivid and dramatic accounts of the August 
4 incident, which apparently never took place. The accurate criticism 
by Senators Gruening and Morse received a few Mnes, dismissed as 
"predictable" responses by the "irascible" Morse. There was no inter- 
est in their charge that the Tonkin Gulf resolution had been predated, 
also dismissed by the Times without inquiry. North Vietnamese and 
Chinese reactions were dismissed as "bluster" by Communists who 
"boiled with hatred and hostility toward the U.S." (Newsweek) and 
"propaganda blasts" f?7.5. A^evr.? & World Report). None of the weeklies 
considered the possibility that U.S. actions might have provoked the 
August 2 incident, or that there were doubts in Washington about the 
August 4 attack, although some of the relevant facts had been briefly 


noted (e.g., Tim^ July 31, noting missions inside North Vietnam by 
paractiuted sabotage teams). The U.S. government version was simply 
adopted as unquestioned truth, with no further discussion or inquiry 
necessary .100 

There were ample grounds at the time for suspicion about the U.S. 
government version. The foreign press was able to see that serious 
questions arose. Le Monde presented public statements on all sides 
and an analysis of what the public record indicated. "Neither the 
Times nor the Post made any such analysis of the record," simply 
taking the false Washington version to be correct and dismissing the 
accurate Communist "allegations" with a bare mention. In London, 
the New Statesman covered the U.S. and Chinese versions, including 
the (accurate) Chinese account of the U.S. -Saigon actions that 
preceded the incidents and the charge that the first was provoked by 
Washington while the second never occurred, and concluding that 
"the incidents in Vietnam do not seem quite as simple as the initial 
headlines indicated" (a substantial understatement). In the United 
States, the left-wing National Guardian, with five major articles, and 
I.F. Slone's Weekly provided the most extensive, careful, and accurate 
account of the events. In contrast to the fevered rhetoric of the main- 
stream newsweeklies, the National Guardian simply described the 
facts that were available, asking whether the August 2 "skirmish" had 
been provoked and whether the "alleged" August 4 incident had 
taken place. The relevant background and Communist versions were 
accurately presented, with appropriate questions raised. Wayne 
Morse's commentary was given ample coverage, as were South Viet- 
namese General Ky's statements on sabotage missions in North Viet- 
nam. I.F. Stone's Weekly also reported the facts accurately, adding 
relevant background ignored by the major media. 

In summary, the national media, overcome by jingoist passion, failed 
to provide even minimally adequate coverage of this crucial event, 
although appropriate skepticism would have been aroused in the mind 
of the reader of the foreign or "alternative" media, or the reader with 
the sophistication to treat the media as a disinfonnation system disguis- 
ing a reality that can perhaps be ascertained with sufficient energy and 
dedication. The Pentagon Papers analyst describes these events as "an 
important firebrea.k," noting that "the Tonkin Gulf Resolution set U.S. 
public support for virtually any action." 103 

The willingness of the media to serve as a vehicle for government 
propaganda helped impel the country toward what they were later to 
regard as "the tragedy" of Vietnam. The reaction of Congress and the 


public laid the basis for the outright invasion of eariy 1965J providing 
suppon for the planners who were secretly concerned that the NLF was 
continuing "to seek a political settlement favorable to the communists" 
through the device of "neutralism" and "a coalition government" 
(Maxwell Taylor, Aug. ro, 1964), and who warned about "Saigon and 
Vientiane hanky panky with Reds" (John McNaughton, October 
1964)-that is, moves toward a political settlement-in accordance with 
the NLF program as described by intelligence: "to seek victory through 
a 'neutralist coalition' rather than by force of arms. "104 When the 
United States extended the war in early 1965 to try to salvage its 
position in the South, the media continued to offer total support, in 
accordance with "the guiding principle of American foreign policy 
since 1945" as outlined by the distinguished liberal commentator of the 
New York Times James Reston, 

that no state shall use military force or the threat of military force 
to achieve its political objectives. And the companion of this 
principle has been that the United States would use its influence 
and its power, when necessary and where it could be effective, 
against any state that defied this principle, 

which was "at stake in Vietnam," where "the United States is now 
challenging the Communist effort to seek power by the more cunning 
technique of military subversion. "lo5 

In the Orwellian world of American journalism, the attempt to seek 
a political settlement by peaceful means is the use of "military force," 
and the use of military force by the United States to block a political 
settlement is a noble action in defense of the "guiding principle" that 
the use of military force is illegitimate. 

The United States then proceeded to fight a long and brutal war to 
try to achieve its objectives in Vietnam, demolishing much of Indo- 
china in the process and leaving a legacy that may never be overcome. 
Finally, in January 1973, the United States formally accepted a peace 
treaty that was virtually identical with the Vietnamese consensus it 
overturned by violence in 1964, except that by that time, the indige- 
nous NLF had been effectively demolished and little remained in In- 
dochina outside of North Vietnam, laying the basis for North 
Vietnamese domination of Indochina, exactly as had been predicted, 
long before, by "the wild men in the wings." The media bear a major 
responsibiJity for these tragic events, coverage of the Tonkin Gulf 
incident with its congressional "blank check" for further aggression 
serving as a notable example. ^ 


5.5.2. The Tet offensive 

Media coverage of the Tet offensive has been the centerpiece of the 
critique of the media for "losing the war" by their incompetent report- 
ing and their anti-government bias reflecting their passion for confront- 
ing authority. The authoritative "proof of this contention was 
provided in the two-volume Freedom House study by Peter Braestrup. 
Conducted over a six-year period with a wide range of distinguished 
participants and consultants, and support acknowledged from some two 
dozen corporations and labor unions, this study was hailed as a "monu- 
mental" work by Don Oberdorfer in a Washington Post magazine cover 
story on the tenth anniversary of the offensive, with the title: "Tet: The 
Turning Point: How a 'Big Event' on Television Can Change Our 
Minds." Professor John P. Roche, of the Fletcher School of Law and 
Diplomacy of Tufts University, "intellectual-in-residence" for the 
Johnson administration, described the Freedom House study as "one 
of the major pieces of investigative reporting and first-rate scholarship 
of the past quarter century," a "meticulous case-study of media incom- 
petence, if not malevolence." In a relatively critical discussion in the 
Times' s Sunday book review, Edwin Diamond praises this "painstak- 
ingly thorough study of how the Vietnam war was presented to the 
American public by its leading image makers," a "highfalutin' epis- 
temological quest" by a "conscientious ... reporter-analyst" that raises 
profound questions about "how do we know what we know," revealing 
"the biases introduced by standard journalistic assumptions and organi- 
zational practices" that contributed to undermining the U.S. position 
in Vietnam among the general public and Congress. Similarly, Charles 
Mohr reports that in a conference of "aging hawks and doves" on the 
tenth anniversary of the Tet offensive at the University of North Caro- 
lina, "Journalism came in for some strong criticism and only a rather 
muted defense." The criticism was by Braestrup, who "expounded 
gently the theme of his recent book," Big Siory, and the hawks in 
attendance, "while some of the reporters there demurred only softly." 
The study is regularly cited by historians, without qualification, as the 
standard work on media reporting of the Tet offensive, "in some re- 
spects as important as the battle itself," here "analysed in depth" 
(R. B. Smith). 106 

Oberdorfer too accepts the conclusions of the study as proven: it was 
the" 'Big Event' on television" that changed our minds about the war. 
The only commentary he cites, even obliquely, accepts this judgment 
(Roche and others unnamed). Within the mainstream more generally, 
it is assumed with little question that this remarkable scholarly contri- 


bution made its case, though one may debate whether it revealed "ma- 
levolence" or deeper problems of "standard journalistic assumptions 
and organizational practices," reflecting perhaps the "adversarial 
stance" of the media with regard to established power. 

Braestrup claims to have shown that the reporting of the Tet offen- 
sive is "in extreme case" of the "unsatisfactory" performance of the 
media: "Rarely has contemporary crisis-journalism turned out, in retro- 
spect, to have veered so widely from reality" by presenting "a portrait 
of defeat for the allies"-"allies" being the term regularly used to refer 
to the U.S. invaders, the local forces they organized, and the largely 
mercenary forces they introduced to support U.S. military operations 
in Indochina, and a term chosen to exploit the favorable connotations 
provided by World War II, when "the allies" fought "the Axis." "To 
have portrayed such a setback for one side [them] as a defeat for the 
other {us] -in a major crisis abroad — cannot be counted as a triumph 
for American journalism," which "shouted that the patient was dying, 
then weeks later began to whisper that he somehow seemed to be 
recovering- whispers apparently not heard amid the clamorous domes- 
tic reaction to the initial shouts," with television the worst offender. 
The whispers began "about late February," he asserts. These journalis- 
tic failures, Braestrup concludes, reflect "the more volatile journalistic 
style-spurred by managerial exhortation or complaisance-that has 
become so popular since the late 196050," accompanied with "an often 
mindless readiness to seek out conRict, to believe the worst of the 
government or of authority in general, and on that basis to divide up 
the actors on any issue into the 'good' and the 'bad.' "The "bad actors" 
include the U.S. forces in Vietnam, the "military-industrial complex," 
and the CIA, among others, while "the good'^ in the eyes of the media 
are presumably the Communists, who, Braestrup argues sardonically 
throughout, were consistently overpraised and protected. The prospect, 
he foresees, "is for a continuation of the current volatile styles, always 
with the dark possibility that, if the managers do not themselves take 
action, then outsiders-the courts, the Federal Communications Com- 
mission, or Congress-will seek to apply remedies of their own," a 
proposal taken up in Roche's call fOT a congressional inquiry and the 
subsequent warnings of the Trilateral Commission, cited earlier (Big 
Story, I, 705ft".) 

The Braestrup-Freedom House thesis has two essential components: 
(I) coverage of the Tet offensive illustrates media incompetence and 
their "adversarial stance"j (2) by their portrayal of an American victory 
as a defeat, the media bear responsibility for the loss of American 
resolve and the subsequent American defeat in Vietnam. It is the sec- 


ond component of the thesis that carries the dramatic impact, and that 
has permitted it to set much of the agenda for subsequent discussion 
of the fourth estate and the dangers that its new-found power and 
"sixties' style" of "mindless" hatred of authority pose for the very 
survival of free institutions and democracy. 

The first component of the thesis is commonly accepted even by 
those who deny the second. Thus, rejecting "the stab-in-the-back the- 
sis," George Herring nevertheless observes: "That the media was hos- 
tile to the war and to Johnson seems clear, and much of the reporting 
of Tet was misleading"; these "distortions of the media" may have 
contributed to "growing popular discontent" with the war and "public 
anxiety," Herring adds, but these were not the operative factors in 
Johnson's decision to de-escalate and seek negotiations after Tet.'O? 

An analysis of the facts and the argument demonstrates that neither 
component of the Freedom House thesis is tenable. The second, as we 
shall see, is conceded in the Freedom House study to be false with 
regard to public opinion, and the straw at which they then grasp wiU 
plainly not bear the weight. As for the &st component, on the narrow 
question of professional competence in reporting the facts available 
under trying and confused circumstances, the performance of the 
media was acceptable if not outstanding, and compares quite favorably 
to the internal reporting of the American military authorities and U.S. 
intelligence, insofar as these are available. But when we turn to broader 
questions of the sort discussed earlier-that is, if we evaluate the media 
by the standards that we would properly apply to reporting, say, on the 
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan-we see that indeed they can be faulted 
in precisely the terms anticipated by the propaganda model. The very 
example selected as providing the strongest grounds for their accusa- 
tions by Freedom House and other critics from the jingoist right wing 
of the political spectrum actually happens to demonstrate the precise 
opposite of what is alleged-namely, it provides yet another striking 
illustration of the subservience of the media to the state propaganda 
system, los 

The Freedom House study itself provides ample documentation to 
establish these conclusions, and to refute its own specific allegations 
point by point. Given the major role that this study and the thesis it 
allegedly established has played in recent ideology, we will give some 
attention to the chasm that lies between its interpretation and summar- 
ies, on the one hand, and the documentary record that it (in part) 
presents, on the other. The comments and summaries often seriously 
misrepresent the contents of the documents described or are outright 
falsifications. The analysis, laced with bitter sarcasm throughout, is 


thoroughly undermined when compared with the actual documents. 
When the countless errors and careless and inaccurate comments art 
corrected, nothing remains of the Freedom House case. The sardonic 
reference to "straw man journalism," "CBS exclusives" and the like, 
referring to alleged misdeeds of the media, is misplaced; case by case, 
we find, instead, "Freedom House exclusives." 

Before proceeding to details, we should take careful note of the 
background assumptions that guide this inquiry. As we noted, for Bra- 
estnsp and Freedom House, the "allies" are the United States, the 
South Vietnamese client government, and the various South Korean, 
Thai, Australian, Chinese Nationalist, and other forces (largely merce- 
nary) mobilized by the United States. The "South Vietnamese" include 
our client government and the armed forces organized, supplied, 
trained, and directed by the United States, but exclude the indigenous 
NLF and its supporters, although the U.S. government never had the 
slightest doubt, and its specialists do not hesitate to concede, that the 
client regime had Hftle support while its opponents in South Vietnam 
constituted so powerful a political force that any peaceful settlement 
was unthinkable. That the United States has a right to conduct military 
operations in South Vietnam to uproot the NLF and destroy the peas- 
ant society in which it was based, that its goals are democracy and 
self-determination, and that its forces "protect" and "bring security" 
to South Vietnamese peasants are principles taken for granted in the 
Braestnip-Freedom House version, where no patriotic assumption or 
cliche is ever challenged--or even noticed, so deeply rooted are these 
doctrines. Correspondingly, the fact that the media coverage surveyed 
is framed entirely within these patriotic premises passes unnoticed. The 
Freedom House inquiry cannot perceive fundamental bias favorable to 
the state because all of the premises of state doctrine are taken as given. 
There is "mindlessness" herCj as Braestrup observes, although it is not 
quite what he perceives; rather, we find that Braestrup "mindlessly" 
adopts what we referred to in chapter 3 as a patriotic agenda, even more 
so than the media he condemns. And as we described in chapter i, the 
function of such "flak machines" as Freedom House is to ensure that 
the press stays within the bounds of this patriotic agenda. 

The Tet offensive of January 1968 began on January 21 with a siege 
by North Vietnamese (NVA) regulars of a U.S. military base at Khe 
Sanh. near the 17th parallel. It was soon apparent that the purpose was 
to draw U.S. forces away from populated centers, and the siege suc- 
ceeded in this aim, as General Westmoreland rushed combat forces to 
the northern areas. On January 31, all major cities and thirty-six of 
forty-four provincial capitals, along with numerous other towns, came 


under simultaneous attack by southern NLF resistance forces ("Viet 
Cong"), along with some NVA elements. The effects are succinctly 
summarized by Wallace Thies in his scholarly study ofthe U.S. strategy 
of "coercing Hanoi": 

" . although U.S. military commanders would later claim that the 
offensive had been anticipated and that the heavy casualties suf- 
fered by the attackers had resulted in a great victory for the Allies, 
the offensive was in fact a military setback for the American side. 
To meet the threat in the northern provinces and forestall a Dien 
Bien Phu-type defeat at Khe Sanh, half of aU U.S. maneuver 
battalions in South Vietnam were deployed in I Corps (in the 
north]; the rest, along with the bulk of the combat-ready ARVN 
[GVN, Government of (South) Vietnam] units, were tied down 
defending the cities against the possibility of a second wave of 
attacks. As a result, the countryside went by default to the NLF, 
the pacification program was left in a shambles, and whatever 
losses the DRV / VC (North Vietnamese / Viet Cong] forces did 
suffer in the initial assaults were largely offset by the unimpeded 
recruiting that they conducted in the rural areas in the weeks that 

International Voluntary Services (IVS), which had a close familiarity 

with the situation in rural areas, withdrew most of its field workers in 
early 1968 because of "security conditions." A volunteer reported in 
February: "The number of locations at which we can safely place a 
volunteer have significantly decreased in recent months"; another 
added that "we all knew that security in the countryside was getting 
worse and worse," contrary to the optimistic evaluations of the U.S. 
high command and Washington, which were relayed with little skepti- 
cism by the media in the pre-Tet period. A South Vietnamese senator 
estimated that after Tet, the government controlled "only one third of 
the country/' the remaining two-thirds being in the hands ofthe NLF, 
an estimate consistent with U.S. intelligence reports. 1 1 1 

The Tet offensive left Washington in a state of "troubled confusion 
and uncertainty," Undersecretary of the Air Force Townsend Hoopes 
observed, and "performed the curious service of fully revealing the 
doubters and dissenters to each other, in a lightning flash," within the 
Pentagon. While General Westmoreland persisted with the optimistic 
assessments that had been undermined by this dramatic demonstration 
that the NLF remained firmly rooted in the South despite the devastat- 
ing American attack on the rural society, the reaction in official Wash- 


ington circles was quite different. Summarizing the impact in Washing- 
ton, George Herring observes that in private, 

Johnson and his advisers were shocked by the suddenness and 

magnitude of the offensive and intelligence estimates were 

much more pessimistic than Westmoreland An "air of gloom" 

hung over White House discussions, [General Maxwell] Taylor 
later observed, and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Gen- 
eral [Earle] Wheeler likened the mood to that following the first 
Battle of Bull Run.n^ 

General Wheeler reported that "to a large extent the VC now control 
the countryside," the situaiion being particularly bad in the Mekong 
Delta, and the Pentagon systems-analysis group concluded that "our 
control of the countryside and the defense of the urban areas is now 
essentially at pre- August 3965 levels," when the U.S. war was being lost, 
according to General Westmoreland. A U.S. government military-his- 
torical summary of the offensive in the Mekong DeUa, completed in 
April 1968, concluded that "The Tet offensive in IV Corps had a 
devastating effect on the Revolutionary Development [pacification] 
Program." As we shall see, these internal assessments are considerably 
more "pessimistic" than those of the media that are denounced for the 
crime of excessive pessimism by Freedom House standards. 

We might incidentally note that in IV Corps (including the Mekong 
Delta), there were "no regular North Vietnam units" according to 
Defense Secretary McNamara; the Freedom House study states that 
"In the southernmost Delta, it was an ARVN-Vietcong [actually, U.S.- 
Vietcong] guerrilla struggle," and more generally, Hanoi "had yet to 
commit sizable (multi-division) forces in sustained, concerted attacks" 
anywhere in South Vietnam (I, 24).113 These assessments are what 
motivated the mass-slaughter campaign carried out in the rural areas 
of the delta and elsewhere in the post-Tet accelerated pacification 
campaign, discussed earlier. 

Even before the Tet offensive. Defense Secretary McNamara had 
privately concluded that military victory was an unreasonable objective 
and that the course of the war should be changed. Clark Clifford, who 
was brought in to replace him after Tet, had long shared such doubts, 
and they were reinforced by the evidence available to him and by the 
conclusions of th< "Wise Meii" whom Johnson called in to assess the 
situation. h4 Dean Acheson, who headed this group of longtime hawks 
drawn from business and political elites, agreed with Clifford's pessi- 
mism and "advised Johnson to scale down ground operations, reduce 


the bombing, and seek every means of terminating hostilities without 
abandoning South Vietnam." The "Wise Men," "after full briefings 
from diplomatic and military officials, confirmed Acheson's findings 
. . . the consensus, as summed up by one of the participants) was that 
'rhere are no military concJusjons in this war—or any military end in 
the future,' " so that "Johnson should therefore de-escalate the con- 
flict." 115 

Notice that at this point some rather serious problems arise concern- 
ing the second component of the Freedom House thesis: that the mis- 
deeds of the media caused the public to oppose the war, undermining 
government resolve and leading to U.S. failure in its (by definition, 
benevolent) aims. To establish the "stab-in-the-back" component of 
the Freedom House thesis, it is necessary to show that public opinion 
was swayed toward opposition to the war by media coverage, and that 
the media and public opinion were a significant factor in the shift of 
government policy. Neither claim can be sustained. 

With regard to the course of public opinion, the Freedom House 
study decisively refutes its own thesis. It includes a chapter on public 
opinion polls by Bums Roper, which demonstrates, as Braestrup con- 
cedes, that "there is no available evidence of a direct relationship 
between the dominant media themes in early 1968 and changes in 
American mass public opinion vi8-4-vis the Vietnam war itself)" but 
rather a continuing "slow drift toward the dove side" after an initial 
wave of support for the president and "frustration and anger at the foe" 
during the Tet offensive. A closer examination of their own data under- 
mines the Freedom House thesis even more thoroughly. The early 
response to the Tet offensive, during the period when media incompe- 
tence and unwarranted pessimism were allegedly at their height, was 
"an increase in the belligerency of the American public"; "the immedi- 
ate reaction of the U.S. public was to favor stiffened resistance [that 
is, U.S. resistance to an attack by South Vietnamese in South Vietnam] 
and intensified U.S. effort." The major sentiment aroused was "Bomb 
the hell out of them." In later February and March) when the media, 
in the Freedom House version, were beginning to "whisper" the true 
story of American victory) "there developed a decided negative reaction 
to the President's handling of the war and the war itself) and a distinct 
opposition to more aggressive U.S. military action." In early February 
1968, when the impact of the alleged media "distortions" and "pessi- 
mism" reached its peak, public opinion shifted toward the "hawks." 
Public opinion returned to the pre-Tet figures by late February, when 
the media were allegedly correcting their earlier errors. By April, after 
the offensive had ended and the "errors" had been overcome (albeit in 


a "whisper"), there was a sharp shift toward the "doves." By April- 
May-June, measurements had returned to pre-Tet levels. "When 
looked at on this broader time scale, the Tet offensive appears merely 
to have caused a minor ripple in a steadily changing attitude toward our 
involvement in the war," a shift toward the position of the doves after 
an initial shift toward the hawks during the period of media "pessi- 
mism." Tet was just "one more incident" that "reminded the public 
that the war was not going well-that the confident predictions out of 
Washington had to be taken with a grain of salt-and that helped move 
public opinion in the antiwar direction in which it had been moving for 
nearly three years 

Faced with this thorough refutation of one essential component of 
their thesis, without which the thesis loses aU significance even if the 
residue were tenable, the Freedom House analysts retreat to the posi- 
tion that although the public was imaffected by the perverse behavior 
of the media, there was an effect "on the nation's 'leadership segment'" 
(Burns)-a safer claim, since, as they concede, no data are available. 
The director of the Freedom House study, Leonard Sussman, con- 
cludes that "the Tet offensive, as portrayed in the media, appeared to 
have had a far greater effect on political Washington and the Adminis- 
tration itself than on the U.S. population's sentiment on the war" (1, 
xxxiv). The media failures, in short, left the public unaffected or even 
more supportive of the war while they misled the government- along 
with presidential adviser Clark Chfford, the "Wise Men" from the 
corporate, political, and military elites including fotmer top-level mili- 
tary commanders, and such media addicts as Dean Acheson, Henry 
Cabot Lodge, McGeorge Bundy, Douglas Dillon, Robert Murphy, etc. 
We are asked to believe that their decision to move toward disengage- 
ment in a situation that they perceived as one of stalemate was based 
not on military briefings, intelligence reports, and all the information 
available at the highest level to official Washington, but on watching the 
evening news with Walter Cionkite."' 

In short, we can dismiss out of hand the second component of the 
Freedom House thesis, the component that had dramatic impact and 
continuing influence within the post- Vietnam "right turn" among elites 
and that has set the agenda for subsequent discussion about the "advet- 
sarial stance" of the media and its grim consequences. We are left with 
the conclusion that the media were either irrelevant, or that they con- 
tinued to operate within the general confines of the approved ideologi- 
cal &ysum> thus refuting the first componcm of the thesis as well. All 
that remains of the Freedom House story is the possibility that the 
media were incompetent (even malevolent), but ineffectual. Notice that 


the Freedom House thesis here faces the same "logical problem" noted 
earlier with regard to the charges concerning television: if television i$ 
as influential as claimed) then the evidence shows that through 1967 it 
"encouraged a decisive majority of viewers to support the war." 

To evaluate the remaining shreds of the Freedom House thesis) let 
us continue with the record of the Tet offensive, now asking whether 
the media did in fact distort it in their zealous-although utterly inef- 
fectual — efforts to undermine authority. 

With lavish use of firepower, U.S. forces succeeded in regaining 
control of the towns and cities. The city of Hue, which had been 
conquered from its own population by GVN troops with American 
assistance several months earlier in a desperate U.S. effort to prevent 
the growth of popular movements calling for democracy and a nego- 
tiated pohtical settlement, lis was 80 percent destroyed by bombing and 
shelling, which left 2,000 civilians buried in the "smashed ruins," ac- 
cording to U.S. Air Force Undersecretary Townsend Hoopes; the ma- 
rines listed "Communist losses" at over 5,000, while Hoopes states that 
a "sizable part" of the Communist force of 1)000 men who captured the 
city escaped) allowing a determination of who constituted the "Com- 
munist losses." U.S. AID in May estimated that some 4,000 civilians 
were left dead in the ruins of the city, most of them victims of U.S. 

In the Mekong Delta, "Artillery and air strikes leveled half of My 

Tho) a city of 80,000, and the provincial capital of Ben Tre {Kien Hoa 
Province, later devastated in the post-Tet terror campaign; see p. 204], 
with 140,000 inhabitants, was decimated with the justification, as an 
American colonel put it in one of the most wideJy quoted statements 
of the war, 'We had to destroy the town to save it.' "120 The U.S. 
command conceded that "the enemy" were overwhelmingly NLF, not 
North Vietnamese; killed and captured outnumbered captured weap- 
ons by a factor of five, an indication of who "the enemy" really were. 
Secretary of Defense MeNamara estimated NVA forces at 50,000 to 
55,000 at the end 0£1967, mostly in northern regions, with some 10,000 
troops placed in Viet Cong combat units; the total roughly matches 
third-country forces, mostly Korean mercenaries, mobilized by the 
United States as part of its invasion of South Vietnam, and barely 10 
percent of the U.S. forces of over half a million men, even excluding 
the massive forces engaged in the attack against Vietnam and Laos from 
the sea and from U.S. sanctuaries from Thailand to the Philippines and 
Guam, employing means of destruction that dwarfed all else in Indo- 

As noted earlier, the Tet offensive not only reduced Washington to 


gloomy despair and convinced U.S. elites that there was no realistic 
hope of a military victory in Vietnam at a cost acceptable to the United 
States, but also changed the character of media reporting and commen- 
tary, which mirrored the changes in elite opinion. On the ground, 
American correspondents were able to witness the war at first hand, 
gaining a view rather different from the sanitized and edited version 
presented under the control of the American military command. Media 
commentary at home reflected elite opinion in recognizing that the 
optimistic forecasts that had been relayed from Washington with little 
skepticism were inaccurate, and that a long and bitter war lay ahead. 

But on-the-scene reporting and domestic commentary never veered 
from the framework of the state propaganda system. In reporting the 
fighting in Ben Tre and My Tho in the Delta, for example, the press 
observed that American infantry participated while the towns were 
blasted by American bombers, helicopter gunships, navy patrol boats, 
and artillery to root out the Viet Cong-that is, the South Vietnamese 
guerrillas who "were probably living with the people," according to an 
American officer quoted by Bernard Weinraub. Nonetheless, the news 
reports speak of the perceived need to "blast the city" with jets and 
helicopter gunships, particularly the poorer and most crowded sections, 
«to save other sections of the city and the lives of thousands of peo- 
ple ..." (Lee Lescaze)-people whose lives were threatened not by the 
southern NLF guerrillas living among them but by the U.S. forces 
"defending" them from the NLF. Because of Tet, Weinraub explains, 
"the protection of Ben Tre waS limited," and it was necessary to bring 
in troops from the U.S. Ninth Infantry Division by helicopter, and to 
carry out "bombing raids and fire by helicopter gunships and artillerj'^' 
to "protect" Ben Tre, which "has long been a stronghold of the Viet- 
cong" and is "sometimes considered a Vietcong rest and recreation 
area," while surrounding hamlets "thought to be controlled by the 
Vietcong have been razed by alhed bombing and artillery attacks and 
fire from armed helicopters." In Ben Tre itself, "the market place is 
rubble and near the gutted homes nearby women in shawls sit in the 
noon heat and mourn with loud groans," while "My Tho still smells of 
death," with halfthe homes destroyed-thanks to the effective "protec- 
tion" the population received from their American defenders.'*' 

Throughout, it is taken for granted that the forces armed, trained, 
and supplied by the only foreign element in the delta are "the South 
Vietnamese," not the South Vietnamese guerrillas living among the 
population in their "Vietcong strongholds," from whom the United 
States is "protecting" the population by ferocious bombardment of 
civihan areas. 


Recall that we are now evaluating the remaining component of the 
Freedom House thesis: that the media were suppressing the American 
victory in their antiestablishment zeal. In fact, they were reporting the 
story accurately in a narrow sense, but completely within the frame- 
work of the government propaganda system-never questioned, in a 
shameful display of media servility. We may imagine what the reaction 
would be to a comparable performance on the part of the Nazi or Soviet 
press. Braestrup's final comment that "a free society deserves better" 
of its media (1, 728) is aCCurate enough, although not quite in the sense 
intended in the Freedom House study. 

As throughout the war, the standpoint of the media continued to 
reflect the perceptions and attitudes of the American military; for ex- 
ample, an American official who observed: "What the Vietcong did was 
occupy the hamlets we pacified just for the purpose of having the allies 
move in and bomb them. By their presence, the hamlets were de- 
stroyed." 123 The same Ncio York Times report from Binh Dinh Prov- 
ince-the "showcase" province for pacification-indicates this had 
been going on, unreported, well before the Tet offensive: "The enemy 
moves in December- which several military men called a 'softening up' 
for the offensive-resulted in a wave of allied air strikes on villages. 
Hundreds of homes were destroyed." 

The U.S. military "resistance"-to borrow the Freedom House ter- 
minology-took the same form elsewhere. Robert Shaplen reported 
from the scene that in Saigon, 

A dozen separate areas, comprising perhaps sixty or seventy 
blocks, had been totally burned out. These were almost all resi- 
dential areas Most of the damage was the result of rocket 

attacks by American armed helicopters or other planes, though 

some of it had been caused by artillery or ground fighting A 

modern ten-million-dollar textile plant, containing forty thousand 
spindles, was entirely destroyed by bombs because it was sus- 
pected of being a Vietcong hideout. 

Le Monde correspondent Jean-Claude Pomonti observed that 

in the popular suburbs, the Front [NLF] has proven that the only 
way to eliminate its control is through systematic destruction. To 
dislodge it, the air force had to level many residential areas. Flee- 
ing the bombardments, tens of thousands of refugees have poured 
into the center of the city.^*' 



Charles Mohr, whom Freedom House singles out for "perhaps the 
consistently best reporting from Vietnam," reported that "in towns 
such as Hue, Vinhlong, Bentre and Mytho appalling destruction was 
wrought when encircled alMed forces took the decision to destroy the 
attacking Vietcong forces by destroying the places they had occupied." 
He quotes an American official in Saigon as stating: "The Government 
won the recent battles, but it is important to consider how they won. 
At first the Vietcong had won and held everything in some towns except 
the American military compound and a South Vietnamese position." 126 
By "the Government," he means the reader to understand the GVN, 
who "won" thanks to U.S. firepower and troops. 

As in this example, the U.S. govexnmeM claim that \ht Tet offensive 
was a military defeat for the Communists was widely reported, although 
the U.S. government official's perception of an initial Viet Cong victory 
goes well beyond the typical media accounts in the crime of "pessi- 
mism." "Journalists generally accepted the official claim that Tet was 
a military defeat for the North Vietnamese and NLF," Daniel Hallin 
concludes in his review of the press and television; for example, Walter 
Cronkite, who said at once over CBS — on February 14-that "first) and 
simplest, the Vietcong suffered a military defeat." 127 Clear and forth- 

These facts do not comport well with what remains of the Freedom 
House thesis: the charge that until late February, the media portrayed 
the enemy's defeat as "a defeat for the allies" in "clamourous shouts," 
only conceding from late February in a "whisper" that this was not 
quite accmate, television being the worst offender, with Walter Cron- 
kite the arch-criminal. It was this gross incompetence or malevolence 
that illustrates most dramatically the "mindless readiness ... to believe 
the worst of the government or of authority in general." In the real 
world, the facts were quite the opposite, and the last remnants of 
the Freedom House thesis thus disappear, apart from the charge, 
to be evaluated in the appendix, that the reporting was technically in- 

Some would contend that the issue of "how they won," which con- 
cerned the American official cited earlier, is as important as "who 
won" in evaluating the significance of the Tet offensive. This idea 
never penetrated the minds of Braestrup or his Freedom House as- 
sociates, however, at the time or in their study. Consider political 
scientist Milton Sacks, a specialist on Vietnam and a GVN adviser, 
thanked for "providing historical perspective" for the Freedom 
House Study (I, sudii). In February 1968, he wrote, with no further 
comment: V 


In conventional terms, it now seems clear that the Communists 
have suffered a military defeat in their Tet offensive. They have 
expended the hves of thousands of their soldiers without securing 
a single province or district town of significance. 

U.S. officials, in contrast, were impressed with the fact that the NLF 
and NVA occupied vast areas previously thought to be "controlled," 
wreaked havoc with the pacification program, and were dislodged only 
by a further and still more violent U.S. attack on the civil society of 
South Vietnam. It was feared that it might not be an easy task to 
convince the populace that the Communists were to blame for the 
slaughter and destruction by U.S. forces. The problem, as reponed 
from Hue by Marc Riboud of Le Monde in April, was that the popula- 
tion appeared to compare ARVN behavior unfavorably with that of the 
NVA or NLF, while the deepest bitterness and resentment was directed 
against the Americans, whose "blind and systematic bombardment" 
had turned Hue into "an assassinated city"; this reaction may have also 
been in part a residue of the deep bitterness and resentment left by the 
U.S. -backed ARVN conquest of Hue a few months earlier.'^*" An IVS 
worker quoted in Newsweek said: "As difficult as this may be to believe, 
not a single Vietnamese I have met in Saigon or in the Delta blames 
the Viet Cong for the events of the past two weeks," and in its last issue 
of the Tet period, Newsweek reported from Hu4j with the same surprise 
at this inexplicable reaction, that 

Curiously, moreover, few of [the population] point an accusing 
finger at the North Vietnamese. "When the NVA were here," said 
one student, "they were polite and well-disciplined, totally dif- 
ferent from the government troops, the Americans, or even the 

"The hope is that the Vietnamese people wiU blame the communists 
rarher than the Americans for whatever damage is being done," Don 
Webster reported from Hue on February 12 in the midst of the recon- 
quest of the city by the U.S. Marines. Two days earlier, John Lengel 
of AP wrote rhat 

It is still impossible to gauge the breadth of the damage . But 

few seasoned observers see the devastation of Hue backfiring on 
the communists. They see as the greatest hope a massive and 
instant program of restoration underlined by a careful psychologi- 
cal warfare program pinning the blame on the communists. '3i 



Braestrup places the word "devastation" in italics as an illustration of 
the unfairness and anti-American bias of the media; comment seems 

While the U.S. media rarely strayed from the framework of the state 
propaganda system, others were unconstrained by these hmits: for ex- 
ample, the Le Monde correspondents cited; or British photo-journalist 
Philip Jones Griffiths, who concluded from his observations on the 
scene that the thousands of civiHan victims of the reconquest of Hu^ 
"were killed by the most hysterical use of American firepower ever 
seen," and then designated "as the victims of a Communist massa- 
cre." 132 

To comprehend fully the nature of the Freedom House charges, we 
may imagine how the inquiry urged by John Roche might proceed. Who 
else is implicated in the terrible misdeeds that Freedom House per- 
ceives? General Westinorelaini and the U.S. command in Saigon must 
surely be placed on the docket because of their estimates of early VC 
successes (see appendix 3 for further examples), along with William 
Bundy, assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, given his 
extreme pessimism. He thought that the Tet offensive was "shattering 
to the South, especially in the area of pacification," concluding for a 
time that "the South Vietnamese were through," "they've had it"- 
where "South Vietnamese" excludes the South Vietnamese defending 
their country from a U.S. invasion, as usuaL These conclusions, which 
do conform to the Freedom House parody of the media, were based not 
on the press but on "reports from people in the field out in Vietnam," 
so presumably they too are implicated (Ij 625)- Similarly, Lyndon John- 
son was guilty, since he seemed "to some degree 'psychologically de- 
feated' by the threat to Khe Sanh and the onslaught on the cities of 
Vietnam," so Braestrup concludes (I, 626, 630). The same is true of 
Johnson's civilian advisers, given the "air of gloom" among them and 
the "Battle of Bull Run" mood, and the author of the official U.S. 
government military-historical summary, cited earlier; and Dean Ache- 
son and other "Wise Men" who urged a shift of course because of the 
same "undue pessimism" for which the media are condemned by Free- 
dom House. Also Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, who reported that the 
offensive had "disrupted the pacification effort for the time being," and 
the pacification adviser who reported that in his "showcase" area, 
"pacification does not exist" (11, 184-86). 

Further candidates for investigation appear in the Pentagon Papers- 
for example. General Wheeler, who summarized the situation in the 
following terms to the president on February 27, just as Walter Cron- 
kite was speculating about "stalemate," arousing Freedom House ire: 


The enemy is operating with relative freedom in the countryside, 
probably recruiting heavily and no doubt infiltrating NVA units 
and personnel. His recovery is likely to be rapid; his supplies are 
adequate; and he is trying to maintain the momentum of his 

winter-spring offensive ARVN is now in a defensive posture 

around towns and cities and there is concern about how well they 
will bear up under sustained pressure. The initial attack nearly 
succeeded in a dozen places, and defeat in these places was only 
averted by the timely reaction of US forces. In shott, it was a very 
near thing. There is no doubt that the RD Program [pacification] 

has suffered a severe set back To a large extent the VC now 

control the countryside MACV estimates that US forces wiU 

be required in a number of places to assist and encourage the 
Vietnamese Army to leave the cities and towns and reenter the 
country. This is especially true in the Delta. 

The media reports that Braestrup derides were rarely as "pessimistic" 
as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose summary of the 
situation led the president to order "the initiation of a complete and 
searching reassessment of the entire U.S. strategy and commitment in 
South Vietnam," the Pentagon Papers analyst reports. 03 

The CIA must also be investigated for contributing to the decline of 
"free institutions" by its pessimism. A CIA paper of March I, presuma- 
bly uninfluenced by Walter Cronldfe^ expressed grave doubts about the 
GVN and ARVN and predicted that they might cease "effective func- 
tioning in parts of the country," so that "virtually the entire burden of 
the war would fall on US forces." Like Cronkite a few days earlier, they 
expected "no better than a standoff in the coming ten months. Penta- 
gon systems analysis concluded that the offensive "appears to have 
killed the [pacification} program once and for all," drawing the conclu- 
sion that Braestrup falsely attributes to the media (see appendix 3), and 
estimated that "our control of the countryside and the defense of the 
urban areas is now ar pre-August 1965 levels." Ir was because of rhis 
serious situation-not perceived American successes, as Braestrup inti- 
mates-thar they recommended what was later to be called "Vietnami- 

The civilian analysrs in the Pentagon must be charged not only with 
undue pessimism, but also wirh some of the other crimes of the press. 
For example, they referred to the famous statement that we are de- 
stroying Sourh Vietnam in order to save it; citation of this statement 
is the target of much Braestrup scorn. We must also include Colonel 
Herbert Schandler, on whom Braestrup relies for his account of the 


Whetiw-WcstfflOTcland request for additional troops. He was, Braest- 
rup says, the anonymous author of the Pentagon Papers section on this 
material, and here he described as "a startlingly accurate account" a 
New York Times article by Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith which, 
Braestrup claims, was a major example of "distorted and incomplete" 
reporting (1, 581, 613). The authors of the "Epilogue" to the Pentagon 
Papers must also be included in the indictment, given their pessimistic 
post-Tet assessment of "the price for military victory" and the "illu- 
sory" nature of claimed progress_ 

The category of people who were not threatening "free institutions" 
by the standards of Freedom House is small indeed, a fact that some 
may find suggestive. 

It is significant that the major criticism of the media in the Freedom 
House study is that they were too "pessimistic." Strikingly absent is the 
obvious standard of comparison: the internal reports from the field and 
analysis by intelligence and official Washington-which were, if any- 
thing, even more pessimistic. The logic of the Freedom House brief 
against the media is highly revealing. In their view, the media in a free 
society must not only accept without question the principles ofthe state 
doctrinal system, as the media did throughout (a fact that Freedom 
House never addresses, and apparently cannot perceive), but must do 
so with a degree of enthusiasm and optimism that exceeds that of U.S. 
intelligence, the military command. Johnson's "Wise Men," and other 
leading figures in the military, political, and corporate world who draw 
their information from a full range of government sources. It is an 
interesting conception of a "free society." 

We might ask how the Freedom House conception of a free press in 
a free society would be applied by Soviet commissars, let us say, to the 
case of the mass circulation weekly Ogonyok^ which published a series 
of long articles that presented a "bleak picture" ofthe war in Afghanis- 
tan, depicting it "in stark terms," speaking of "poor morale and deser- 
tion" among Afghan units and "tough fighting between elite Soviet 
troops and Afghan guerrillas," and implying that "large areas of Afg- 
hanistan are under guerrilla control." The articles also give "a broad 
hint that drug use is common among Russian troops in Afghanistan," 
and they include extracts from a helicopter pilot's journal describing 
"the sight and smell of colleagues' charred bodies" and implying that 
"helicopter losses are high" after the receipt of sophisticated Western 
weaponry by the guerrillas, terrorists who finance themselves by pro- 
ducing drugs for the international market (charges verified by Western 
observers, incidentally). But it would be inhumane for the USSR simply 
to withdraw without guarantees for the population, because "a Soviet 


withdrawal would lead to nationwide internecine warfare," as Afghans 
who are quoted anticipate. The article does not simply mimic standard 
U.S. media fare, as these excerpts indicate. Thus it describes an attack 
on Soviet villages by Afghan guerrillas; one can imagine the U.S. reac- 
tion had there been a Viet Cong attack on villages in Texas. But by 
Freedom House standards, it is plain that the editors merit severe 
censure for their "adversarial stance," "pessimism," and "volatile 
styles," "always with the dark possibility that, if the managers do not 
themselves take action, then outsiders [in the government] will seek to 
apply remedies of their own. "U4 And, in fact, injanuary 1988, General 
Dimitri T. Yakov, the Soviet defense minister, applied Freedom House 
and Braestrup principles to the "adversarial" Soviet press, sharply 
criticizing articles in Ogonyok and Literaturnaya Gazeta for reporting 
on the Afghan war in ways that undermined public confidence in the 
Soviet army and played into the hands of the West. 

In the light of the evidence presented in the Freedom House study, 
and of much that is ignored, the following conclusions seem reasonable. 
During the Tet offensive and its aftermath, media performance was 
creditable, sometimes very highly so, in a narrow sense. More broadly, 
this reporting was highly deceptive in that it was framed within the 
unchallenged and unrecognized doctrines of the state propaganda sys- 
tem, which impose a severe distortion. Media reports compare favora- 
bly in accuracy with those available to official Washington at the highest 
level from internal sources, although they were regularly less alarmist, 
perhaps because the media tended to give credence to official state- 
ments and were unaware of the internal assessments. The reports from 
the scene led media commentators to draw approximately the same 
conclusions as Johnson's high-level advisers. The manner in which the 
media covered the events had little effect on public opinion, except 
perhaps to enhance its aggressiveness and, of course, to instill ever more 
deeply the basic and unexamined tenets of the propaganda system. 

As we shall see in appendix 3, a closer examination estabhshes these 
conclusions still more iirmly, while demonstrating further the utter 
incompetence-to use the kindest term-of the Freedom House study 
that has been so influential in the subsequent period. 

We have now addressed the argument presented by critics of the 
media for its alleged "adversarial stance" on their own chosen grounds, 
the grounds that they select as the strongest for their case. The propa- 
ganda model is once again confirmed, thus meeting the most severe test 
that can be posed. The model is also vindicated by the manner in which 
Freedom House fulfills its function as a flak machine, attempting to 
bully the media into a still more thoroughgoing conformity with the 


propaganda requirements of state policy by methods that are a travesty 
of honest journalism (let alone scholarship^allj of course, in the 
interest of "freedom." 

5.5.3. The Paris Peace Agreements 

The Tet offensive convinced large sectors of elite opinion that the costs 
of the U.S. effort were too high. Lyndon Johnson stepped down. In 
what was termed by the government a "bombing halt," and reported 
as such, the bombers were shifted from Nonh Vietnamese targets to 
Laos, where the defenseless rural society of scattered villages in the 
North was demolished, and later Cambodia, where the same was true 
on an even more horrendous scale. U.S. forces undertook the violent 
and destructive post-Tet accelerated pacification campaign in the 
South, and bombing was intensified to "step up refugee programs deliber- 
ately aimed at depriving the VC of a recruiting base, " in accordance with 
the advict ofpacifkation director Robert Komer in April 1967,'^* The 
Phoenix program was established to destroy the "infrastructure" of the 
NLF by terror. The burden of ground fighting was shifted to Viet- 
namese forces supplied and directed by the United States, and U.S. 
conscripts were withdrawn, a more typical pattern for colonial wars that 
essentially duplicated the earlier French effort to reconquer Indochina. 
And the United States finally agreed to pursue the path of a negotiated 
settlement, although still not relinquishing the aim of preventing the 
unification o [Vietnam and retaining Indochina, apart from North Viet- 
nam, within the U.S. global system. 

This was not the maximal goal the United States had pursued; thus 
in the late 1950S the U.S. government still hoped for unification 
of Vietnam under anti-Communist leadership, and the U.S. client 
regime always regarded itself as the government of all of Vietnam 
(GVN = Government of Vietnam), and so declared in the first and 
unamendable article of its constitution. But by the late 1960s, if not 
before, control over all Indochina apart from North Vietnam was re- 
garded as the maximum goal attainable. As we have seen, opportunities 
for a peaceful diplomatic settlement had long existed, but they had 
never been pursued because they were regarded as inconsistent with the 
essential goal: preservation of an "independent" South Vietnam that 
would be a U.S. client state. 

By October 1972, the negotiators in Paris had reached the essential 
terms of an agreement: the 9-Point Plan. President Nixon, however, 
objected to the terms of the agreement, and the Thieu government in 


Saigon was completely opposed to them. Nixon's hope was to delay 
further negotiations until after the November presidential elections, 
when he would have more leveraged 3? xj^g delay would also permit a 
vast shipment of arms to the GVNj something that would surely be 
prohibited by the agreements. 

In an effort to pressure Nixon to sign the agreements, the DRV made 
the terms public on October 26 in a radio broadcast. In a Washington 
press conference, Kissinger stated that the Radio Hanoi broadcast gave 
"on the whole a very fair account," then offering the following para- 
phrase: "As was pointed out by Radio Hanoi, the existing authorities 
with respect to both internal and external politics would remain in 
office" in the South. Thus Kissinger sought to insinuate that according 
to the accurate account on Radio Hanoi, the GVN ("the existing au- 
thorities") would remain "in office" as the government of the South, 
and would somehow deal with the other "party," whose status remained 
mysterious. But "what was pointed out by Radio Hanoi"— correctly, as 
Kissinger conceded-was something quite different, namely, that "the 
two present administrations in South Vietnam will remain in existence 
with their respective domestic and external functions," these being the 
GVN and the PRO (based upon the NLF). Having reached agreement, 
these two parties were then to move toward reunification, to be "carried 
out step by step through peaceful means," with no external-meaning 
U.S. -interference. 

The differences are crucial. From its earliest days, the war was 
fought over the question of whether "the South Vietnamese people 
shall decide themselves the politico) future o/South Vietnam," as the 
October 9-Point Plan explicitly stipulated must be the case, or whether 
the United States would enforce the rule of its client regime, the GVN, 
as the sole legitimate government in the South, in accordance with 
Kissinger's version of the terms to which he had theoretically agreed, 
a version that plainly departed radically from the text, us 

Kissinger's announcement that "peace is at hand." designed with the 
upcoming U.S. presidential elections in mind, was also blatant decep- 
tion. As his distortion of the essential terms of the agreement clearly 
revealed, the United States was backing away from the settlement and 
refusing to implement it. Nixon later explained that "We had to use 
[Kissinger's press conference} to undercut the North Vietnamese prop- 
aganda maneuver [namely, making public the terms of the agreement] 
and to make sure that our version of the agreement was the one that 
had great public impact, "i** This result was substantially achieved; the 
media characteristically accepted Kissinger's version with no recogni- 
tion that it was diametrically opposed to the terms of the 9-Point Plan, 


though the facts were plain to anyone who troubled to look at the 
readily available public record. 

The United States then proceeded with a vast shipment of arms to 
the GVN while demanding substantial changes in the October agree- 
ments. Hanoi, in contrast, pUblicly insisted that the October agreements 
be signed. The media adopted the version of events relayed regularly 
by Kissinger, depicting him as caught between two irrational adversar- 
ies, Hanoi and Saigon. The Christmas bombings of Hanoi and Hai- 
phong followed, causing great damage and also the loss of several dozen 
B-52S (the exact numbers are contested, but the losses clearly shocked 
the Pentagon), as well as a highly adverse world reaction, although the 
media continued to relay the Washington interpretation of what had 
happened. Thus Stanley Karnow wrote that "evidently" the primary 
aim of "Nixon's bombings of Hanoi" was "to compel the Nonh Viet- 
namese to return to negotiations," a curious version of the readily 
available facts, After the military and political failures of the Christ- 
mas bombings, the U.S. government then signed the January peace 
agreements, which were virtually identical to the terms it had rejected 
the preceding October- and, still more significant, were hardly differ- 
ent in essentials from the NLF proposals of the early 1960s, which 
caused such dismay in Washington and compelled the U.S. government 
to escalate the war so as to prevent a political settlement, thus virtually 
destroying Indochina, with millions of casualties and three countries 
utterly devastated-a fact considered of little moment in the West. 

The charade that took place in October was reenacted in January. 
As the agreements were announced on January 24, the White House 
made an official statement, and Kissinger had a lengthy press confer- 
ence in which he explained clearly that the United States was planning 
to reject every essential provision of the accords the administration had 
been compelled to sign, presenting a version that explicitly violated 
them at every clUcial point. In yet another astonishing demonstration 
of servility, the media accepted the Kissinger- White House version 
unquestioningly, thus guaranteeing that the Vietnamese enemy would 
appear to be violating the agreements if it adhered to them. 

Recall that all of this took place during the period when the media 
had allegedly reached their peak level of militant opposition to state 
authority. Let us now briefly inspect this remarkable record. 

The Paris Agreements committed "the United States and all other 
countries [to] respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territo- 
rial integrity of Vietnam as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements 
on Vietnam" (article I). Pending reunification of Vietnam, which is to 
"be carried out step by step through peaceful means . . . and without 


foreign interference," the "military demarcation line" at the 17th paral- 
lel is to be regarded as "only provisional and not a political or territorial 
boundary" (article IS). In the South, there are two parallel and equiva- 
lent "South Vietnamese parties," the GVN and the PRC This is the 
central element of the agreements, which proceed to specify in detail 
the responsibilities and commitments of the two "South Vietnamese 
parties." These are to achieve national reconciliation through peaceful 
means, under conditions of full democratic freedoms, while "Foreign 
countries shall not impose any political tendency or personality on the 
South Vietnamese people" and "the United States will not continue its 
military involvement or intervene in the internal affairs of South Viet- 
nam" (articles 9C, 4). "The two South Vietnamese parties undertake to 
respect the cease-fire and maintain peace in South Vietnam, settle all 
matters of contention through negotiations, and avoid all armed con- 
flict" (article 10). Furthermore, "the two South Vietnamese parties" 
will proceed to "Achieve national reconciliation and concord, end ha- 
tred and enmity, prohibit all acts of reprisal and discrimination against 
individuals or organizations that have collaborated with one side or the 
other," and, in general, "ensure the democratic liberties ofthe people," 
which are outlined, along with procedures to ensure the reconcilation 
undertaken by "the two South Vietnamese parties" (articles II, 12). The 
agreements committed "the two South Vietnamese parties" not to "ac- 
cept the introduction of troops, mihtary advisers, and military person- 
nel including technical military personnel, armaments, munitions, and 
war material into South Vietnam" and called for a "total withdrawal" 
of an such personnel within sixty days, while "the two South Viet- 
namese parties" will settle "The question of Vietnamese armed forces 
in South Vietnam . . . without foreign interference" (articles 5, 7, 13). 

In his January 24 press conference, Kissinger made it dear that the 
United States maintained the right to provide "civilian technicians 
serving in certain of the military branches," and as its forces were 
withdrawn after the signing of the agreements, the United States pro- 
ceeded to keep or introduce 7,200 "contract civilians" to "handle main> 
tenance, logistics, and training jobs formerly performed by the U.S. 
military," many of them "retired military men," under the supervision 
of a U.S. major-general."*' The provisions concerning technical per- 
sonnel were thus at once nullified, along with the U.S. pledge co refrain 
from any intervention "in the internal affairs of South Vietnam." 

In a speech of January 23, Nixon announced that the GVN would 
bt recognized as the "sole legitimate government in South Vietnam," 
nullifying articles 9c and 4 as well as the basic principle of the agree- 
ments: that the two parallel and equivalent "South Vietnamese parties" 


are to proceed toward a settlement with no U.S. interference or effort 
to impose any "pobtica] tendency" on the people of South Vietnam. In 
its "summary of basic elements of the Vietnam agreements" on January 
24, the White House announced that "the government of the Republic 
of (South) Vietnam continues in existence, recognized by the United 
States, its constitutional structure and leadership intact and un- 
changed" -the reason for the parentheses being that this "constitu- 
tional structure" identifies the GVN as the government of all Vietnam. 
This "constitutional structure" also outlawed the second of the twO 
parallel and equivalent parties, along with "pro-communist neutralism" 
and any form of expression "aimed at spreading Communist policies, 
slogans and instructions"; and the GVN announced at once that such 
"illegal" actions would be suppressed by force, while President Tilleu 
stated that "this is solely a ceasefire agreement, no more no less."14z 
With these declarations, the United States and its client regime thus 
nullified the central principle of the Paris Agreements, and flatly re- 
jected the provisions for "the two South Vietnamese parties" to achieve 
"national reconciliation and concord" by peaceful means without 
forceful measures or repression. 

In short, the United States announced at once, clearly and without 
equivocation, that it intended to disregard every essential provision of 
the scrap of paper it was compelled to sign in Paris_ 

Kissinger attempted to obfuscate the matter in his January 24 press 
conference, reprinted in full in the New York Times. He claimed, 
falsely, that "we have achieved substantial changes" from the October 
9-Point Plan, thus implicitly offering a justification for the Christmas 
bombings. He stated that "what the civil war has been aU about" is 
"who is the legitimate ruler of South Vietnam" and "is there such a 
thing as a South Vietnam even temporarily until unification," claiming 
that the United States had achieved its objectives on these points by 
virtue of the "specific references to the sovereignty of South Vietnam" 
and "the right of the South Vietnamese people to self-determination"; 
and he claimed that the United States had also achieved its goal with 
regard to the status of the demarcation Mne. 

All of this was blatant deception. The wording of the agreements 
reflected the DRV-PRG position in all the respects Kissinger men- 
tioned, while Kissinger's insinuation that the agreements permitted the 
United States to recognize the GVN as "the legitimate ruler of South 
Vietnam" is in explicit contradiction to the agreements he had just 
signed, as is his attempt to create the impression that the "civil war" 
is "between North and South Vietnam." The core provision of the Paris 
Agreements establishes the GVN and the PRG as "the two South 


Vietnamese parties," parallel and equivalent, to move toward unifica- 
tion with the North, abrogating the provisional demarcation line, which 
has no political status. Kissinger was attempting to confuse "sove- 
reignty o/ South Vietnam" with "sovereignty within South Vietnam"; 
the latter is what the war "was aU about" from the outset, and the 
agreements simply reiterated the position of "the enemy" that this was 
a matter to be settled by the two South Vietnamese parties without 
extemal interference, as in the October 9- Point Plan.'** 

Just as in October, the purpose of this obfuscation was, in Nixon's 
words, "to make sure that our version of the agreement was the one that 
had great public impact." And again it succeeded. The media- without 
exception, to our knowledge-accepted the Kissinger- White House 
version as expressing the contents of the agreements, enabling them to 
interpret the PRG-DRV insistence on the actual terms of the Paris 
Agreements as an effort to disrupt them. Thus Joseph Kraft, a liberal 
dove on these issues, wrote that "Much of the blame goes to the 
Communists" for the subsequent breakdown of the cease-fire, because 
"Hanoi has never abandoned the objective of unifying aU of Vietnam"; 
that is, Hanoi has never abandoned its objective of living up to the 
terms of the Geneva Accords of 1954, now cxplidtly reiterated in the 
Paris Agreements of January 1973.^^^ As a dove, he also added that "just 
as much of the blame goes to President Thieu"-but none, of course, 
can be assigned to Washingron. He cites Communist military actions 
in the South and dispatch of equipment as the major reason for the 
breakdown of the cease-fire, citing no evidence; as we shall see, the 
facts reveal quite a different reason. 

At the liberal extreme of U.S. opinion, Tom Wicker wrote that 

American pohcy, which never accepted the Geneva agreement, 
came to insist, instead, that South Vietnam was a legally con- 
stituted nation being subverted and invaded by another power; 
and that view is implied even in the documents that finally pro- 
duced the cease-fire.^** 

Wicker adopts Kissinger's version, which is in explicit contradiction to 
the actual documents; these simply reiterate the long-held position of 
the NLF and Hanoi with regard to the status of South Vietnam. 

In the New Republic, Stanley Karnow wrote that "the Vietcong 
considers [the PRG] to be a parallel administration, " faihng to observe 
that it is not only "the Vietcong," but also the Paris Agreements just 
signed by the United States government that assign to the PRG a Status 
exactly parallel to that of the GVN.^*^ In Newsweek, Stewart Alsop 


proclaimed that if the "marvelously elaborate" Nixon- Kissinger settle- 
ment "survives more or less intact, we wiH have won the war"-which 
would be true, under the Nixon-Kissinger interpretation, although 
under the evidently irrelevant terms of the Paris Agreements, the 
United States had abandoned its war aims and accepted the basic 
proposals of the Vietnamese enemy. Newsweek went on to explain in the 
same issue that Hanoi has now 

accepted the provision that north and south are divided by a 
sacrosanct demarcation line, thus tacitly acknowledging the legiti- 
macy of the Saigon regime. . . . Equally vital to the Nixon Ad- 
ministration was specific mention of the "sovereignty" of the 
Saigon government, and on this point, too, the U.S. had its way. 
Hanoi finally conceded that, in Kissinger's words, "there is an 
entity called South Vietnam." In one important sense, the dispute 
over that question was what the war in Vietnam was all about. '"^^ 

Again, utterly and transparently false in every respect, as a comparison 
with the text just quoted immediately demonstrates, although in accord 
with Kissinger's deceptive version of the agreements, taken as sac- 
rosanct by the loyal media. 

An honest and independent press would have announced the January 
agreements with headlines reading: "u.S. Announces Intention to Vio- 
late the Agreements Signed in Paris." An informed press would have 
observed further that the Paris Agreements incorporate the principles 
rejected by the United States at Geneva twenty years earlier, as well 
as the essential principles of the NLF program of the early 1960s, which 
were similar to those advocated by Vietnamese quite generally and 
constituted the crucial fact that impelled the United States to escalate 
the war so as to block a political settlement among Vietnamese. The 
actual press simply adopted Washington's version of the agreements, 
never mentioning that this version contradicted them in every essential 
respect and thus guaranteed that the war would go on-as it did. Once 
again, the contribution of the media was to help implement further 
violence and suffering by adopting Washington's version ofevents-in 
this case, in the face of the fact that ihii version was, transparently, in 
flat contradiction to the documents readily at hand. One would have 
to search assiduously to discover a more blatant example of media 
subservience to state power. 

The aftermath was predictable, predicted in the "alternative press," 
and similar to earlier occasions when the same factors were operative. 
As after Geneva 1954, the Communists, who had won a political victory 


(on paper), attempted to pursue "political struggle," while the United 
States and its GVN client at once turned to military force to overturn 
the terms of the Paris Agreements. These facts were reported by the 
more serious journalists on the scene in Vietnam, notably Daniel South- 
erland, who observed from his extensive investigations that "the Saigon 
government has been guilty in by far the greatest number of cases of 
launching offensive operations into territory held by the other side," 
assuming "that it has the right, despite the cease-fire," to take back 
territory which it lost in t972," and giving many examples, as did 
others. i"*^ The U.S. government informed Congress cheerily that "the 
GVA/has fared weB during the post-cease-fire maneuvering," adding 
"770 hamlets to the hst of those over which it has dominant control" 
after the agreements-and in violation of them, a fact that passed 
without notice. The GVN thus added one rmlliOn people to the areas 
of its control, while expending sixteen times as much ammunition as 
the enemy and using the newly provided U.S. equipment, as intended, 
for massive military operations, including extensive bombardment of 
PRO areas to prevent refugees from returning to them as provided by 
the agreements. 150 The media either blamed the Communists, or some- 
times the GVN as well, but not the United States, which had an- 
nounced at once its intention to disrupt the agreements and now 
publicly expressed its pleasure in the military actions that successfully 
achieved this objective. 

When the North Vietnamese finally responded to U.S. -GVN vio- 
lence, the GVN quickly collapsed, leading to outrage in the U.S. 
government and media-which still persists-over this dramatic dem- 
onstration of Communist iniquity, which proves that their intentions all 
along were to destroy the free and independent government of South 
Vietnam and to reduce its people to Communist tyranny, thus further 
entrenching the principle that "Communists cannot be trusted." 

This useful lesson, firmly established by media complicity in trans- 
parent government deceit, has, not surprisingly, been applied in subse- 
quent efforts by the U.S. government to gain its ends by violence. One 
dramatic example was featured in the media in August 1987, when the 
Central American presidents confounded Washington strategy by 
adopting a political settlement that undermined the familiar U.S. reli- 
ance on force to compensate for its political weakness. As part of its 
immediate efforts to sabotage this agreement, the State Department 
called the Latin American ambassadors to Washington, where they 
were presented with "a copy of the 1973 Paris peace agreement that was 
negotiated to end the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War," the Wall 
Street Journal reported, adding that "the agreement was subsequently 


ignored by North Vietnam." Thejourna/ explained that this unfortu- 
nate "Vietnam experience," which proved that agreements with Com- 
munists are not worth the paper they are printed on, is one factor in 
administration "skepticism" about the Central American agreement. 
Copies of the 1973 Paris Agreements were distributed to the envoys "as 
a case study of how an agreement with ambiguous provisions could be 
exploited and even ignored by a Communist government," Neil Lewis 
reported in the lead story in the New York Times, adding: "In violation 
of the 1973 accord, North Vietnam overran South Vietnam and united 
the two parts of Vietnam under its banner in 1975."151 The utility of a 
carefully crafted historical record, designed by the loyal media to serve 
the needs of state power, is revealed here with much clarity. 

Surveying these events, we reach essentially the same conclusions as 
before, although once again the performance of the media-at the peak 
period of their alleged "independence" and "adversarial stance"-goes 
well beyond the predictions of the propaganda model, exceeding the 
expected nann of obedience to the state authorities and reaching the 
level that one finds in totalitarian states. As before, the servility of the 
media made a significant contribution to ensuring that the slaughter in 
Indochina would continue and that the U.S. government would be able 
to exploit its "Vietnam experience," as filtered through the media, for 
later exercises in international terrorism. The remarkable performance 
of the media also laid the basis for the postwar interpretation of "what 
the war was all about" and why the United States failed to auam its 
ends, a matter to which we turn in the next section. 


In April 1975, the war came to an end, and the thirty-year conflict 
entered a new phase. Indochina faced the near-insoluble problems of 
reconstruction in aland that had been reduced to ruin by foreign annies 
after a century of colonial oppression. In the United States too, elite 
groups faced a problem of reconstructioni but of a different kind. The 
problem in the United States was the reconstruction of ideology, the 
taming of the domestic population that had lost its faith in the nobility 
of intent and the inspiring benevolence of the elites who determine U.S. 
policy. It was necessary to overcome what Norman Podhoretz, echoing 
Goebbels, calls "the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force," 


the dread "Vietnam syndrome," finally cured by the stirring triumph 
of U.S. arms in Grenada, so Podhoretz hoped. i;2 This was part of a 
larger problem, the "crisis of democracy" perceived by Western elites 
as the normally passive general population threatened to participate in 
the political system, challenging established privilege and power.'** A 
further task was to prevent recovery in the societies ravaged by the 
American assault, so that the partial victory already achieved by their 
destruction could be sustained. 

As we have seen, through the mid-sixties, the media loyally fulfilled 
their function of service to state violence, and there was no significant 
popular opposition to the U.S. attack on Indochina. True, in 1964, the 
population voted 2 to 1 in favor of the "peace candidate," who was 
assuring them that we want no wider war while laying the groundwork 
for the rapid escalation planned for the postelection period, a note- 
worthy illustration of the character of electoral politics in a society 
lacking genuine opposition parties and a critical and independent press. 
Nevertheless, the enthusiasm of the ideological institutions for the 
rapid escalation of U.S. efforts to "defend South Vietnam" from "inter- 
nal aggression" helped keep the public in line as the U.S. invading army 
rose to over half-a-miUion men on the ground and appeared to be 
attaining some success in "grinding the enemy down by sheer weight 
and mass," although at "horrendous cost," in the words of pacification 
chief Robert ("Blowtorch") Komer, later to become a high-ranking 
official of the Human Rights Administration. 

By 1967, the popular mood was shifting, and the public was begin- 
ning to defy the hawk-dove consensus of elites for whom the issues 
were limited to tactics and expedience, a matter of much government 
concern. Defense Secretary McNamara warned the president, in secret, 
in May 1967 that expansion of the American war might "polarize opin- 
ion to the extent that 'doves' in the US will get out of hand-massive 
refusals to serve, or to fight, or to cooperate, or worse?"155 At the time 
of the Tet offensive, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were concerned with "our 
capacity to meet the possibility of widespread civil disorder in the 
months ahead"; in considering further troop deployments, they took 
care to ensure that "sufficient forces are stili available for civil disorder 
control," including "National Guard forces deployed under State or 
Federal control" and U.S. Army troops. The Pentagon warned further 
that a request for more troops might lead to "increased defiance of the 
draft and growing unrest in the cities," running the risk of "provoking 
a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions." Earlier, the Pentagon 
feared that escalation ofthe land war beyond South Vietnam might lead 
to massive civil disobedience, particularly in view of opposition to the 


war among young peoplcj the underprivileged, women, and segments 
of the intelligentsia. "The sight of thousands of peaceful demonstrators 
being confronted by troops in battle gear" during "the massive anti-war 
demonstration" and "massive march on the Pentagon" in October 1967 
was particularly disturbing, the Pentagon Papers analyst observed."' 
The gradual withdrawal of the increasingly demoralized U.S. military 
forces led to a diminution of visible protest by the early 19705, but the 
"Vietnam syndrome" was never cured. As late as 1982, 72 percent of 
the public (but far fewer "opinion makers" and, to judge by other 
evidence cited earlier, virtually none of the "American intellectual 
elite") regarded the Vietnam War as "more than a mistake; it was 
fundamentally wrong and immoral," a disparity between the public and 
its «leaders" that persists as of 1986.'" 

The primary task facing the ideological institutions in the postwar 
period was to convince the errant public that the war was "less a moral 
crime than the thunderously stupid military blunder of throwing half 
a milhon ground troops into an unwinnable war>" as the respected New 
York Times war correspondent Homer Bigan explained, while chastis- 
ing Gloria Emerson for her unwillingness to adopt this properly moder- 
ate view, iss The "purpose of the war" must be perceived as "preventing 
North Vietnam from subjugating South Vietnam" Oohn Midgley), "the 
real enemy, of course, [beingj North Vietnam, supplied and sustained 
by the Soviet Union and China" (Drew Middleton)159-all in defiance 
of the plain facts. The primary issue was the cost to the United States 
in its noble endeavor; thus Robert Nisbet describes the "intellectual 
pleasure" he derived from "a truly distinguished work of history" with 
a chapter covering the 1960s, "with emphasis on the Vietnam War and 
its devastating impact upon Americans," obviously the only victims 
worthy of concem.'^o To persuade elite opinion was never much of a 
problem, since these were the reigning conceptions throughout, and 
clearly privilege, along with media access, accrues to those who follow 
this path. Bur the public has nevertheless remained corrupted. 

An ancillary task has been to keep the devastation that the United 
States left as its legacy in Indochina hidden from public view. Indeed, 
one finds only scattered reference to this not entirely trivial matter in 
the U.S. media-a remarkable achievement, given the agency of de- 
struction and its scale. Keeping just to Vietnam, the death toll may have 
passed three million. In an article entitled "Studies Show Vietnam 
Raids Failed," Charles Mohr observes that the CIA estimated deaths 
from bombing of the North at welt over 30,000 a year by 1967, "heavily 
weighted with civilians." 161 Crop-destruction programs from 1961 had 
a devastating impact, including aerial dcstrucuon by chemicals, ground 


operations to destroy orchards and dikes, and land clearing by giant 
tractors (Rome plows) that "obliterated agricultural lands, often in- 
cluding extensive systems of paddy dikes, and entire rural residential 
areas and farming hamlets," leaving the soil "bare, gray and lifeless," 
in the words of an official report cited by Arthur Westing, who com- 
pares the operations to the "less efficient" destruction of Carthage 
during the Punic Wars. "The combined ecological, economic, and so- 
cial consequences of the wartime defoliation operations have been vast 
and will take several generations to reverse"; in the "empty landscapes" 
of South Vietnam, recovery will be long delayed, if possible at all, and 
there is no way to estimate the human effects of the chemical poison 
dioxin at levels "300 to 400% greater than the average levels obtaining 
among exposed groups in North America." 162 

In the South, 9,000 out of 15,000 hamlets were damaged or de- 
stroyed, along with some twenty-five million acres of farmland and 
twelve million acres offorest. One-and-a-half million cattle were killed, 
and the war left a million widows and some 800,000 orphans. In the 
North, aU six industrial cities were damaged (three razed to the ground) 
along with twenty-eight of thirty provincial towns (twelve completely 
destroyed), ninety-six of n6 district towns, and 4,000 of some 5,800 
communes. Four hundred thousand cattle were killed and over a mil- 
lion acres of farmland were damaged. Much ofthe land is a moonscape, 
where people live on the edge of famine, with rice rations lower than 
those in Bangladesh. Reviewing the environmental effects, the Swedish 
peace-research institute SIPRI concludes that "the ecological debilita- 
tion from such attack is likely to be of long duration." The respected 
Swiss-based environmental group lUCN (International Union for 
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) concluded that the 
ecology is not only refusing to heal but is worsening, so that a "catastro- 
phe" may result unless billions of dollars are spent to "reconstruct'* the 
land that has been destroyed, a "monumental" task that could be 
addressed only if the United States were to offer substantial repara- 
tions, a possibility that cannot be considered in a cultural climate of 
abysmal ignorance, chauvinism, and the self-righteous pursuit of self- 
interest. Destruction of forests has increased the frequency of floods 
and droughts and aggravated the impact of typhoons, and war damage 
to dikes (some of which, in the South, were completely destroyed by 
U.S. bombardment) and other agricultural systems has yet to be re- 
paired. The report notes that "humanitarian and conservationist 
groups, particularly in the United States, have encountered official 
resistance and red tape when requesting their governments' authoriza- 
tion to send assistance to Vietnam" -naturally enough, since the 


United States remains committed to ersure that its achievements are 
not threatened by recovery of the countries it destroyed. ^'^^ 

There is little hint of any of this, or of the similar Carthaginian 
devastation in Laos and Cambodia, in mainstream U.S. media coverage. 
Rather, with remarkable uniformity and self-righteousness, the prob- 
lems of reconstruction, hampered further by the natural catastrophes 
and continuing war to which the United States has made what contri- 
bution it can, are attributed solely to Communist brutality and inepti- 
tude. The sole remaining interest in postwar Vietnam in the U.S. media 
has been the recovery of remains of U.S. personnel presumed to be 
killed in action, the Vietnamese preoccupation with other matters serv- 
ing as further proof of their moral insensitivity. 

In one of his sermons on human rights, President Carter explained 
that we owe Vietnam no debt and have no responsibility to render it 
any assistance because "the destruction was mutual,"164 a statement 
that elicited no comment, to our knowledge, apart from our own- a fact 
that speaks volumes about the prevailing cultural climate. Some feel 
that there may once have been a debt but that it has been amply repaid. 
UndM the headline "The Debt to the Indochiftese Is Becoming a Fiscal 
Drain," Bernard Gwertzman quotes a State Department official who 
"said he believed the United States has now paid its moral debt for its 
involvement on the losing side in Indochina." The remark, which also 
passed without comment, is illuminating: we owe no debt for mass 
slaughter and for leaving three countries in ruins, no debt to the mil- 
lions of maimed and orphaned, to the peasants who still die today from 
exploding ordnance left from the U.S. assaxih. Rather, our moral debt 
results only from the fact that we did not win. By this logic, if the 
Russians win in Afghanistan, they will have no moral debt at all. Pro- 
ceeding further, how have we paid our moral debt for failing to win? 
By resettling Vietnamese refugees fleeing the lands we ravaged, "one 
of the large$tj most dramatic humanitarian efforts in history" according 
to Roger Winter, director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees. But 
"despite the pride," Gwertzman continues, "some voices in the Reagan 
Administration and in Congress are once again asking whether the war 
debt has now been paid. . . . "165 

The media are not satisfied with "mutual destruction" that effaces 
all responsibility for some of the major war crimes of the modern era. 
Rather, the perpetrator of the crimes must be seen as the injured party. 
We find headlines reading: "Vietnam, Trying to Be Nicer, Still Has a 
Long Way to Go." "1 t'S about time the Vietnamese demonstrated some 
good will," said Charles Printz, of Human Rights Advocates Intema- 
tional, referring to negotiations about the Amerasian children who 


constitute a tiny fraction of the victims of U.S. aggression in Indochina. 

Barbara Crossette adds that the Vietnamese have also not been suffi- 
ciently forthcoming on the matter of remains of American soldiers, 
although their behavior may be improving: "There has been progress, 
albeit slow, on the missing Americans." The unresolved problem of the 
war is what they did to us. Since we were simply defending ourselves 
from "internal aggression" in Vietnam, it surely makes sense to con- 
sider ourselves the victims of the Vietnamese. 

In a derisive account of Vietnamese "laments" over the failure of the 
United States to improve relations with them, Barbara Crossette re- 
ports their "continuing exaggeration of Vietnam's importance to 
Americans" under the headline: "For Vietnamese, Realism Is in Short 
Supply." The Vietnamese do not comprehend their "irrelevance," she 
explains with proper imperial contempt. U.S. interest in Vietnam, she 
continues, is limited to the natural American outrage over Hanoi's 
invasion of Cambodia (to overthrow our current ally Pol Pot), and its 
failure to be sufficiently forthcoming "on the issue of American service- 
men missing since the end of the war." She cites a Pentagon statement 
noting that Vietnam "has agreed to return the remains of 20 more 
servicemen" and expressing the hope that the Communists will proceed 
"to resolve this long-standing humanitarian issue." She quotes an 
"Asian official" as saying that "We all know they have the bones some- 
where If Hanoi's leaders are serious about building their country, 

the Vietnamese will have to deal fairly with the United States." When 
a Vietnamese official suggested that the U.S. send food aid to regions 
where starving villagers are being asked to spend their time and energy 
searching for the remains of American pilots killed while destroying 
their country. State Department spokeswoman Phylhs Oakley reacted 
with great anger: "Weare outraged at any suggestion of linking food 
assistance with the return of remainSj" she declaimed. So profound is 
the U.S. commitment to humanitarian imperatives and moral values 
that it cannot permit these lofty ideals to be tainted by associating them 
with such trivial concerns and indecent requests. It is difficult to 
know how to react to a cultural climate in which such words can be 
spoken, evoking no reaction. 

According to standard state and media doctrine. South Vietnam (i.e., 
the client regime that we established) lost the war to North Yietnam- 
the official enemy, since the U.S. attack against the South cannot be 
conceded. "North Vietnam, not the Vietcong, was always the enemy," 
John Corry proclaims in reporting the basic message of an NBC white 
paper on the war,I67 a stance that is conventional in the mainstream. 
Corry is indignant that anyone should question this higher truth. As 


proof of the absurdity of such "liberal mythology," he cites the battle 
of la Drang Valley in November 1965: 

It was clear then that North Vietnam was in the war. Nonetheless, 
liberal mythology insisted that the war was being waged only by 
the Vietcong, mostly righteous peasants. 

Corry presents no example of liberals who described the Viet Cong as 
"righteous peasants," there being none, and no example of anyone who 
denied that North Vietnamese troops had entered the South by No- 
vember 1965, since, again, there were none. Furthermore, opponents of 
the war at that time and for several years after included few representa- 
tives of mainstream liberalism. Corry's argument for North Vietnamese 
aggression, however, is as impressive as any that have been presented. 

The NBC white paper was one of a rash of retrospectives on the 
tenth anniversary of the war's end, devoted to "The War that Went 
Wrong, The Lessons It Taught."I68 These retrospective assessments 
provide considerable insight into the prevailing intellectual culture. 
Their most striking feature is what is missing: the American wars in 
Indochina. It is a classic example of Hamlet without the Prince of 
Denmark. Apart from a few scattered sentences, the rare allusions to 
the war in these lengthy presentations-as in postwar commentary 
rather generally, including cinema and literature as well as the media- 
are devoted to the suffering of the American invaders. The Wall Street 
Journal^ for example, refers to "the $180 million in chemical companies' 
compensation to Agent Orange victims "-U.S. soldiers, not the South 
Vietnamese victims whose suffering was and remains vastly greater. i69 
It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of these startling facts. 

There is an occasional ghmpse of reality. Time opens its inquiry by 
recalling the trauma of the American soldiers, facing an enemy that 

dissolved by day into the villages, into the other Vietnamese. They 
maddened the Americans with the mystery of who they were-the 
unseen man who shot from the tree line, or laid a wire across the 
trail with a Claymore mine at the other end, the mama-san who 
did the wash, the child concealing a grenade. 

No doubt one could iind similar complaints in the Nazi press about the 

The meaning of these facts is almost never perceived. Time goes so 
far as to claim that the "subversion" was "orchestrated" by Moscow, 
so that the United States had to send troops to "defend" South Viet- 


nam, echoing the fantasies concocted in scholarship-for example, by 
Walt Rostow, who maintains that in his effort "to gain the balance of 
power in Eurasia," Stalin turned "to the East, to back Mao and to 
entlame the North Korean and Indochinese Communists. "170 

Throughout the war, elite groups remained loyal to the cause, apart 
from expressing qualms about the bombing of North Vietnam, which 
was regarded as problematic since it might lead to a broader conflict, 
drawing in China and the USSR, from which the United States might 
not be immune. This was the "toughest" question, according to the 
McNamara memo cited earlier, and the only serious question among 
"respectable" critics ofthe war. The massacre of innocents is a problem 
only among emotional or irresponsible types, or among the "aging 
adolescents on college faculties who found it rejuvenating to play 'revo- 
lution.' "171 Decent and respectable people remain silent and obedient, 
devoting themselves to personal gain, concerned only that we too might 
ultimately face unacceptable threat-a stance not without historical 
precedent. In contrast to the war protestors, two commentators explain, 
"decent, patriotic Americans demanded- and in the person of Ronald 
Reagan have apparently achieved-a return to pride and patriotism, a 
reaffirmation ofthe values and virtues that had been trampled upon by 
the Vietnam-spawned counterculture"172-most crucially, the virtues 
of marching in parades chanting praises for their leaders as they con- 
duct their necessary chores, as in Indochina and El Salvador. 

The extent of this servility is revealed throughout the tenth-anniver- 
sary retrospectives, not only by the omission ofthe war itself but also 
by the interpretation provided. The New York Times writes sardonically 
of the "ignorance" of the American people) only 60 percent of whom 
are aware that the United States "sided with South Vietnam"-as Nazi 
Germany sided with France) as the USSR now sides with Afghanistan. 
Given that we were engaged in "a defense of freedom" in South Viet- 
nam (Charles Krauthammer), it must be that the critics of this noble 
if flawed enterprise sided with Hanoi, and that is indeed what standard 
doctrine maintains; the fact that opposition to American aggression in 
South Vietnam, or even against the North, entails no such support, just 
as opposition to Soviet aggression entails no support for either the 
feudalist forces of the Afghan resistance or Pakistan or the United 
States, is an elementary point that inevitably escapes the mind of the 
well-indoctrinated intellectual. The Times retrospective alleges that 
North Vietnam was "portrayed by some American intellectuals as the 
repository of moral rectitude." No examples are given, nor is evidence 
presented to support these charges, and the actual record is, as always, 
scrupulously ignored. Critics of the peace movement are quoted ex- 


pounding on its "moral failure of terrifying proportions," and several 
"former peace activists who had leaped across the ideological divide" 
and now "are taking their stand with conservative Christians" of the 
Reaganite variety are quoted at length. But those who are allegedly 
guilty of these "terrifying" crimes are given no opportunity to explain 
the basis for their opposition to U.S. aggression and massacre. Nor are 
they permitted to assign to their proper place in history those who 
condemn the "moral failure" of opposing U.S. aggression or those who 
praise themselves for their occasional twitters of protest when the cost 
to us became too great. We read that the opponents of the war "bran- 
dished moral principles and brushed aside complexity" but nothing of 
what they had to say-as was the case throughout the war. A current 
pretense is that principled critics of the war had access to the main- 
stream media during these years. In fact, they were almost entirely 
exdudedj and now we are regaled with accounts of their alleged crimes 
but are almost never permitted to hear their actual words, exactly as 
one would expect in a properly functioning system of indoctrination 
with the task of preserving privilege and authority from critical analysis. 

The Times informs us that Vietnam "now stands exposed as the 
Prussia of Southeast Asia," because since 1975 they have "unleashed a 
series of pitiless attacks against their neighbors," referring to the Viet- 
namese invasion that overthrew the Pol Pot regime (after two years of 
border attacks from Cambodia), the regime that we now support despite 
pretenses to the contrary. Although the Times is outraged at the Prus- 
sian-style aggression that overthrew our current Khmer Rouge ally, and 
at the Vietnamese insistence that a political settlement must exclude 
Pol Pot, the reader of its pages will find little factual material abou( any 
of these matters. There are, incidentally, countries that have "un- 
leashed a series of pitiless attacks against their neighbors" in these 
years-for example, Israel, with its invasions of Lebanon in 1978 and 
1982-bm as an American client state, Israel inherits the right of aggres- 
sion, so it does not meri( the bitter criticism Vietnam deserves for 
overthrowing Pol POt; and in any event, Israel's invasion of Lebanon 
was a «liberation," as the Times explained at the time, always carefully 
excluding Lebanese opinion on the matter as obviously irrelevant. ^^"^ 

The Times recognizes (ha( the United States did suffer "shame" 
during its Indochina wars; "the shame of defeat." Victory, we are to 
assume, would not have been shameful, and the record of aggression 
and atrocities generally supported by the Times evokes no shame. 
Ra(her, the United States (bought it was "resisting" Communis(s 
"when it imervened in Indochina"; how we "resist" the natives defend- 
ing their homes from our attack, the Times does not explain. 


That the United States lost the war in Indochina is "an inescapable 
fact" (Wall Slreet Journal), repeated without question throughout the 
retrospectives and in American commentary generally. The truth is 
more complex, although to see why, it is necessary to escape the con- 
fines of the propaganda system and to investigate the rich documentary 
record that lays out the planning and motives for the American wars 
in Indochina over thirty years. This record shows that a rather different 
conclusion is in order, an important fact to understand. 

The United States did not achieve its maximal goals in Indochina, 
but it did gain a partial victory. Despite talk by Eisenhower and others 
about Vietnamese raw materials, the primary U.S. concern was not 
Indochina but rather the "domino effect," the demonstration effect of 
independent development that might cause "the rot to spread" to Thai- 
land and beyond, perhaps ultimately drawing Japan into a "New 
Order** from which the United States would be excluded. This threat 
was averted as the United States proceeded to teach the lesson that a 

" 'war of liberation' is costly, dangerous and doomed to failure" 

(Kennedy adviser General Maxwell Taylor, testifying to Congress). 176 
The countries of Indochina wiU be lucky to survive; they will not 
endanger global order by social and economic success in a framework 
that denies the West the freedom to exploit, infecting regions beyond, 
as had been feared. It might parenthetically be noted that although this 
interpretation of the American aggression is supported by substantial 
evidence, 177 there is no hint of its existence in the popular histories or 
the retrospectives, for such ideas do not conform to the required image 
of aggrieved benevolence. Again, we see here the operation of the 
Orwellian principle that ignorance is strength. 

While proceeding to extirpate the "rot" of successful independent 
development in Indochina, the United States moved forcefully to but- 
tress the second hne of defense. In 1965, the United States backed a 
military coup in Indonesia (the most important "domino," short of 
Japan), while American liberals and Freedom House lauded the "dra- 
matic changes" that took place there-the most dramatic being the 
massacre of hundreds of thousands of landless peasants and the de- 
struction of the only mass-based political party-as a proof that we 
were right to defend South Vietnam by demolishing it, thus encourag- 
ing the Indonesian generals to prevent any rot from spreading there. In 
1972, the United States backed the overthrow of Philippine democracy, 
thus averting the threat of national capitalism there with a terror-and- 
torture state on the preferred Latin American model. A move toward 
democracy in Thailand in 1973 evoked some concern, prompting a 
reduction in economic aid and increase in military aid in preparation 


for the military coup that took place with U.S. support in 1976. Thai- 
land has had a particularly important rote in the U.S. regional system 
since 1954, when the National Security Council laid out a plan for 
subversion and eventual aggression throughout Southeast Asia, in re- 
sponse to the Geneva Accords, with Thailand serving as its "focal 
point" and, subsequently, as a CQajor base for the U.S. attacks on 
Vietnam and Laos."* In his personal Times retrospective, Penzagon 
Papers director Leslie Gelb observes that ten years after the war ended, 
"the position of the United States in Asia is stronger" than at any time 
since World War H, despite "the defeat of South Vietnam," quoting 
"policy analysts" from government and scholarship who observe that 
"Thailand and Indonesia , . . were able to get themselves together 
politically, economically and militarily to beat down Communist insur- 
gencies," in the manner just indicated, as were the Philippines and 
South Korea, also graced with a U.S. -backed military coup in 1972."' 
The business press had drawn the same conclusions years earlier, dur- 
ing the latter stages of the war.'*" 

In short, the United States won a regional victory, and even a sub- 
stantiallocal victory in Indochina, left in ruins. The U.S. victory was 
particularly significant within South Vietnam, where the peasant-based 
revolutionary forces were decimated and the rural society was demol- 
ished. "One hard-core revolutionary district just outside Saigon, CD 
Chi," Paul Quinn-Judge observes, "sent 16,000 men and women to fight 
for the National Liberation Front. Some 9,900 did not return." Much 
the same was true throughout the South. "The deaths left a major 
pOMtical gap for the new regime," he adds. "The south was stripped of 
the trained, disciplined and presumably committed young cadres who 
would have formed the backbone of the present administration. In 

many areas the losses were near complete And the casualties put 

further strains on the state's limited financial and organisation capaci- 
ties."181 The U.S. victory over the overwhelmingly rural society of 
South Vietnam, always the primary enemy, laid the basis for the take- 
over by North Vietnam (as anticipated years earlier in the much- 
derided peace-movement literature),! 82 allowing American hypocrites 
to "prove" that this predictable consequence of the war they supported 
shows that it was a just "defense of South Vietnam" against northern 
aggressors. In the cities, swollen with millions of refugees, the lucky and 
the more corrupt survived on an American dole at a level that had no 
relation to the now-demolished productive capacity of the country, 
leaving another near-insoluble problem that can conveniently be 
blamed on the Communists. The revolutionary forces had gained vic- 
tory in many rural areas by the time of the outright U.S. invasion. 


largely through their appeal to the peasantry, as documented in the 
more serious scholarly work from sources in or close to the U.S. gov- 
ernment ("The Early Stages," p. 186). But "many ofthe conclusions [of 
this work] have been invalidated by the events after Tet," New York 
Times Asia correspondent Fox Butterfield observes, a coy reference to 
the fact that this political success was overturned by the U.S. outburst 
of savagery in the post-Tet mass murder operations. '^^ 

That the United States suffered a "defeat" in Indochina is a natural 
perception on the part of those of limitless ambition, who understand 
"defeat" to mean the achievement only of major goals, while certain 
minor ones remain beyond our grasp. The perception of an unqualified 
U.S. "defeat" in the media retrospectives and similar commentary is 
understandable in part in these terms, in part in terms of the alleged 
goal of "defending freedom" developed in official propaganda and 
relayed by the ideological institutions. 

Postwar U.S. policy has been designed to ensure that the victory is 
maintained by maximizing suffering and oppression in Indochina, 
which then evokes further gloating here. Since "the destruction is 
mutual," as is readily demonstrated by a stroll through New York, 
Boston, Vinh, Quang Ngai Province, and the Plain of Jars, we are 
entitled to deny reparations, aid, and trade, and to block development 
funds. The extent of U.S. sadism is noteworthy, as is the (null) reaction 
to it. In 1977, when India tried to send a hundred buffalo to Vietnam 
to replenish the herds destroyed by U.S. violence, the United States 
threatened to cancel "food-for-peace" aid, while the press featured 
photographs of peasants in Cambodia pulling plows as proof of Com- 
munist barbarity; the photographs in this case were probable fabrica- 
tions of Thai intelligence, but authentic ones could, no doubt, have 
been obtained throughout Indochina. The Carter administration even 
denied rice to Laos (despite a cynical pretense to the contrary), where 
the agricultural system was destroyed by U.S. terror bombing. Oxfam 
America was not permitted to send ten solar pumps to Cambodia for 
irrigation in 1983; in 1981, the U.S. government sought to block a ship- 
ment of school supplies and educational kits to Cambodia by the Men- 
nonite Church. ^^'^ 

A tiny report in the Christian Science Monitor observes that the 
United States is blocking international shipments of food to Vietnam 
during a postwar famine, using the food weapon "to punish Vietnam 
for its occupation of Cambodia," according to diplomatic sources. Two 
days later. Times correspondent Henry Kamm concluded his tour of 
duty as chief Asian diplomatic correspondent with a long article in 
which he comments "sadly" on the "considerably reduced quality of 


life" in Indochina, where in Vietnam "even working animals 3re rare," 
for unexplained reasons, in contrast to "the continuing rise, however 
uneven in many aspects, of the standard of living" elsewhere in the 
region. In thirty-five paragraphs, he manages to produce not one word 
on the effects of the U.S. war or the postwar policy of "bleeding 
Vietnam," as the Far Eastern Economic Review accurately terms it.'^^ 
The major television retrospective on the war was the award-winning 
thirteen-part PBS "Television History" of 1983, produced with the 
cooperation of British and French television, followed by a "Vietnam 
Op/Ed" in 1985 that included the Accuracy in Media critique and 
discussion of the two documentaries by a group tilted heavily toward 
the hawks. The controversy had well-defined bounds. At one ex- 
treme, there were those who defended the PBS series as fair and accu- 
rate; at the other, critics who claimed that it presented "a war of the 
good nationalists, represented by Ho Chi Minh, versus the evil imperi- 
alist Americans who are trying to quash, sit on, the legitimate aspira- 
tions of the South Vietnamese people" (AIM chairman Reed Irvine). 
The moderator, "the man in the middle," concluded the discussion by 
stressing the importance of allowing "conflicting views about the Viet- 
nam war to be presented at a time when the nation as a whole is finally 
allowing itself a close look at the only war we have ever lost." We will 
not review the AIM critique'^'' or the "debate," which reiterates many 
of the charges we have already discussed (for example, Irvine's sole 
example of how "the enemy was able to use our free, uncontrolled 
media to achieve their own objectives," namely, via the media's por- 
trayal of the Tet offensive "as a defeat for our side, even though it was 
actually a very outstanding military victory"). More to the point here 
are the contents of the PBS series itself, and the fact that it sets the 
bounds on critical analysis of the "failed crusade" undertaken for mo- 
tives that were "noble," although "illusory," as the PBS companion 
volume describes the U.S. effort "to defend South Vietnam's indepen- 

With regard to the American war, the PBS series makes a conscious 
effort to be balanced, to present all sides, to take no side. The French, 
in contrast, are treated far more harshly, as brutal colonialists, with no 
pretense of balance. Peter Biskind comments: 

Whereas the narrator referred to Ho Chi Minh and his followers 
as "rebels," "nationalists," or "the Vietnamese resistance," as long 
as they were fighting the French, once the Americans arrive they 
are invariably "Communists" or just "the enemy." Whereas Bao 
Dai is the "playboy emperor picked by the French," Nguyen Cao 


Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu are simply the "government." 

Whereas French troops just released from Japanese prison camps 
go "on a rampage, arresting and attacking Vietnamese," American 
troops engage in the was-it-or-wasn't-it massacre at Thuy Bo. 

The effort to maintain balance is illustrated, for example, in the narra- 
tor's concluding words to episode 4, covering Johnson's escalation of 
the war in 1964-65 and the first appearance of North Vietnamese units 
in the South in mid-1965. After presenting Lyndon Johnson and other 
U.S. government spokesmen, the narrator states: 

Johnson called it invasion. Hanoi called it liberation. In the fall 
of 1965, three North Vietnamese regiments massed in the Central 
Highlands. Nearly two years had passed since Johnson renewed 
the U.S. commitment to defend South Vietnam. Nearly two years 
had passed since Ho Chi Minh renewed his commitment to liber- 
ate the South. Now their two armies braced for battle For the 

first time, in the Battle of the la Drang Valley, Americans fought 
the North Vietnamese-face to face. For the first time, B-52s 
supported troops in the field. And for the first time, to Americans, 
Vietnam meant a major new war. 

Here we have "balance," but of a special kind. One may believe, with 
Johnson, that North Vietnam is invading the South, or, with Ho, that 
North Vietnam is fighting to liberate the South. We may not beheve, 
however, that the United States is invading South Vietnam, which, we 
learn two episodes later, it had been bombing since 1961. Rather, we 
must assume, as a given fact not subject to debate, that the U.S. com- 
mitment was "to defend South Vietnam." 

To evaluate this effort at "balance," we may observe that during the 
preceding summer (1965), five months after the United States began the 
regular bombing of North Vietnam, the Pentagon estimated that the 
60,000 U.S. troops then deployed faced an enemy combat force of 
48,500,97 percent of them South Vietnamese guerrillas ("Viet Cong"). 
A few months after the la Drang Valley battle, in March 1966, the 
Pentagon reported 13,100 North Vietnamese forces in the South, along 
with 225,000 Viet Cong, facing 2i6^00 U.S. troops and 23,000 third- 
country troops (mostly South Korean), in addition to 690,000 ARVN 
troops.189 Considering these facts, and the earlier history, it would seem 
possible to imagine a point of view that departs from the framework 
established here, one that is, furthermore, plainly accurate: the United 
States was stepping up its attack against South Vietnam. But that goes 


beyond "balance," which is construed similarly throughout, thus con- 
signing the series to the familiar system of state propaganda on the most 
crucial and essential point. A position critical of foreign aggression (that 
is, the U.S. aggression that was plainly the central element of the war) 
is excluded as unthinkable, although it may be conceded that "To the 
Communists in Hanoi, America's presence in the South was yet another 
act of foreign aggression" (episode 4). The NLF in the South is granted 
no opinion on the matter, and the episode ends with a ringing declara- 
tion by LBJ.i»® 

It is not that the facts are entirely hidden. Thus episode 5 ("America 
Takes Charge") opens with a description by a GI of how "the ARVN 
and the VC are the same people, the same race, the same culture, and 
yet one side seems to be chicken and the other side seems to fight in 
the face of overwhelming disadvantages" in what is clearly "their coun- 
try." A U.S. major discusses the problem in Binh Dinh Province, which 
"had never been really in friendly hands" since 1946 but rather "under 
VC control" throughout, compelling the United States to resort to 
"awesome fire power" that turns heavy jungle into a "moonscape." But 
the plain truth that such facts entail cannot be expressed, or perceived. 

Balance is also preserved in an "account from both sides" of what 
happened in the village of Thuy Bo, in January 1967, where British 
producer Martin Smith had been shown the site of what villagers 
claimed to be a My Lai-style massacre, one of many they alleged, with 
a hundred women and children killed. Fox Butterfield reports that in 
contrast to the "balanced" picture actually presented by PBS, the 
British participants in the series argued that "the Marine attack on 
[Thuy Bo] should be labeled a war crime." This failure to maintain 
"balance" was in keeping with what a filmmaker involved in the project 
termed their "more moralistic stance, anxious to accentuate the aspects 
of the war that were immoral at the expense of looking at it afresh," 
which would apparently exclude the "more moralistic stance." 191 In 
this episode, the marines tell their story of an assault on a VC-defended 
village and then the villagers (given thirty-five lines of the transcript, 
to ninety for the marines) tell their conflicting version of a marine 
massacre of wounded and captured civilians. The sequence ends with 
a marine describing what took place as a "normal procedure," with 
"burning them hootches down and digging them Vietnamese people out 
of holes [with grenades and rifle fire] and scattering animals, pigs and 
chickens around like we normally do," especially after three days in the 
field under brutal conditions. 

The account continues in the same vein. We hear that "American 


aircraft dropped six times more bombs on South Vietnam than on the 
Communist North," and that "most of the enemy troops were native 
southerners" (episode 8). But no conclusion is suggested, except that 
the purpose of the U.S. bombing of Vietnam, distributed in this curious 
manner and at "twice the tonnage dropped on Germany and Japan in 
World War II," was to try "to stop North Vietnam from sending 
soldiers and supplies to the South." Nevertheless, 140,000 made it 
through 1967 according to the U.S. government (episode 7), about half 
the number of South Korean mercenaries and a small fraction of the 
Americans who were destroying South Vietnam. 

The Phoenix program of political assassination is justified at length 
by its director, William Colby, who denies that it was what it was, and, 
for balance, some comments are added by critics in the military and by 
a civihan aide worker, describing apparent random killing and torture. 
The post-Tet military operations are passed over in total silence. After 
Nixon's election in I968> when these wholesale U.S. massacres began 
in full force, "the war continued," we learn: "The weapons were Viet- 
cong rockets, the victims were Danang civilians" killed by the Viet 
Cong and North Vietnamese. 

After the breakdown of negotiations in October 1972^ "The North 
was again intransigent," we learn-namely, in demanding that the 
agreements be signed, a fact ignored; and "In South Vietnam, too, the 
agreement was still unacceptable," the familiar evasion of U.S. respon- 
sibility (see "The Paris Peace Agreements, p. 228). The terms of the 
January 1973 agreement are given, but with no indication that the U.S. 
government announced at once its intent to disregard them, as it did. 
Rather, we hear that "to the North Vietnamese and Vietcong, the 
struggle had not ended," because "Vietnam was still divided." The facts 
are quite different, as we have seen. They are indeed more accurately 
stated, although briefly, two episodes later (episode 12), although the 
U.S. role is suppressed except by implication: "America was still com- 
mitted to South Vietnam," the narrator says, without noting that this 
commitment to the GVN, identified with South Vietnam by the U.S. 
government and by PBS, is in explicit violation of the agreements 
signed in Paris. 

"Whatever their views of the war," the narrator adds, "most Ameri- 
cans now believed that the cost had been too great," particularly the 
cost of American lives; "They believed that no more Americans should 
die for Vietnam. " The only other Americans are those who thought it 
proper that "more Americans should die for Vietnam. " Americans were 
dying for Vietnam in the same sense in which Russian boys are dying 



for Afghanistan, but those who could perceive this fact, and who op- 
posed the war not merely because the cost was too great but because 
aggression is wrong, are excluded from the category of Americans. 

As in the media retrospectives, the antiwar movement is given short 
shrift. A few activists are quoted, but permitted to discuss only ques- 
tions of tactics. Even Eugene McCarthy, plainly the favored antiwar 
figure in this presentation, says nothing except that "I think the case 
is rather clear about what's wrong about our involvement"-which is 
fair enough, since the media's favorite dove had never been a serious 
critic of the war and was to disappear quickly from the scene after 
failing to gain political power, thus demonstrating again where his 
commitments lay. James Fallows is permitted to describe "the spirit of 
the times": "to look for the painless way out, namely, a physical defer- 
ment." In the real world, this was a position that hardly defined "the 
spirit of the times," although it is a facet of this "spirit" that is far more 
acceptable to main&trc&m opinion than the principled and courageous 
resistance of many thousands of young people, an intolerable phenome- 
non and therefore erased from the record. As Peter Biskind observes, 
for all the attempt at "balance," and "despite the preference of (the 
PBS series] for doves over hawks, it is the right, not the left, that has 
set this film's political agenda," in conformity to elite opinion. 

Biskind concludes his review of the PBS series by stating: "The truth 
is that the war was a crime, not a tragedy. The tragedy is that this film 
lacks the conviction to say so." The same may be said about the retro- 
spective commentary generally. The war was a "tragic error," but not 
"fundamentally wrong and immoral" (as the overwhelming majority of 
the American people continue to believe), and surely not criminal 
aggression-the judgment that would be reached at once on similar 
evidence if the responsible agent were not the United States, or an ally 
or client. 

Our point is not that the retrospectives fail to draw what seem to us, 
as to much of the population, the obvious conclusions; the more signif- 
icant and instructive point is that principled objection to the war as 
"fundamentally wrong and immoral," or as outright criminal aggres- 
sion-a war crime-is inexpressible. It is not part of the spectrum of 
discussion. The background for such a principled critique cannot be 
developed in the media, and the conclusions cannot be drawn. It is not 
present even to be refuted. Rather, the idea is unthinkable. 

AU of this again reveals with great clarity how foreign to the mobil- 
ized media is a conception of the media as a free system of information 
and discussion, independent of state authority and elite interests. 

The. Indochina Wars (II): 

Laos and 

tlement in Laos and Cambodia. Both countries, however, were drawn 
into the U.S. attack on Indochina, with devastating consequences. In 
both cases, the media made a noteworthy contribution to this outcome. 

6.1. LAOS 

In Laos, as in Vietnam, the United States undertook to prevent a 
political settlement, as described frankly in congressional hearings by 
Ambassador Graham Parsons, who stated that "I struggled for 16 
months to prevent a coalition." A U.S. military mission was established 
under civilian cover in violation of the Geneva Accords, headed by a 
general in civilian guise, and U.S. aid flowed in an effort to establish 
U.S. control. A measure of its scale and purposes is given by the fact 


that Ljios was "the only country in the world where the United States 
supports the military budget 100 percent."] 

Nevertheless, a coalition government was established in 1958 after 
the only elections worthy of the name in the history of Laos. Despite 
extensive U.S. effonsj they were won handily by the left. Nine of the 
thirteen candidates of the Pathet Lao guerrillas won seats in the na- 
tional assembly, along with four candidates of the left-leaning neutral- 
ists ("fellow travelers," as they were called by Ambassador Parsons). 
Thus "Communists or fellow travelers" won thirteen of the twenty-one 
seats contested. The largest vote went to the leader of the Pathet Lao, 
Prince Souphanouvong, who was elected chairman of the national 

U.S. pressures-including, cruciany, the withdrawal of aid— quickly 
led to the overthrow of the government in a coup by a "pro-Western 
neutralist" who pledged his allegiance to "the free world" and declared 
his intention to disband the political party of the Pathet Lao (Neo Lao 
Hak Sat, or NLHS), scrapping the agreements that had successfully 
established the coalition. He was overthrown in turn by the CIA favor- 
ite, the ultra-right- wing General Phoumi Nosavan. After U.S. cliems 
won the 1960 elections, rigged so crudely that even the most pro-U.S. 
observers were appalled, civil war broke out, with the USSR and China 
backing a coalition extending over virtually the entire political spec- 
trum apart from the extreme right, which was backed by the United 
States. The U.S. government assessment was that "By the spring of 1961 
the NLHS appeared to be in a position to take over the entire country," 
primarily because of its control of the countryside, where it had "dili- 
gently built up an organization covering most of the country's ten 
thousand villages," as noted ruefully by the bitterly anti-Communist 
Australian journalist Denis Warner.^ The problem was the familiar one: 
the United States and its clients were militarily strong but politically 

Recognizing that its policies were in a shamWes^ the United States 
agreed to take part in a new Geneva conference, which proposed a new 
settlement in 1962. This too quickly broke down, and the civil war 
resumed with a different line-up and with increasing intervention by the 
United States and its allies., and by North Vietnam, in the context of 
the expanding war in Vietnam. U.S. clandestine military operations 
began in 1961, and the regular U.S. bombing began in early 1964'. 
Operation Barrel Roll, directed against northern Laos, was initiated in 
December 1964, several months before the regular bombing of North 
Vietnam. The bombing of northern Laos was intensified in 1966, reach- 
ing extraordinary levels from 1968 with the "bombing halt" in North 


Vietnam-in reality, a bombing redistribution, the planes being shifted 
to the destruction of Laos. ^ 

Media coverage of Laos during the earlier period was sometimes 
extensive — over three times as great as of Vietnam in the Netv York 
Times in 1961, the Pentagon Papers analyst observes. But its contents 
were often absurd. For example, the aid cut-off that was the essential 
factor in the U.S. subversion of the elected government of Laos in 1958 
"was never even reported in the national press," which barely men- 
tioned the eVents, and then with misleading commentary reflecting 
Washington deceit.'* Bernard Fall gave a detailed and derisive exposure 
of some of the more ludicrous incidents^ including inflammatory fabri- 
cations that helped create major crises and led to deeper U.S. involve- 
ment in Thailand and Indochina. Joseph Alsop's fevered reports of 
largely invented Communist military actions were parr.icularly note- 
worthy, s 

As the Vietnam War escalated, Laos became "only the wan on the 
hog of Vietnam, " as Dean Rusk put it, a "sideshow war," in Walter 
Haney's phrase, as Cambodia was to be later on. Media coverage de- 
clined as the "sideshow war" escalated. There were, in fact, three 
distinct U.S. wars: the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail in the South; 
the bombing of the peasant society of northern Laos, which the U.S. 
government conceded was unrelated to the war in South Vietnam; and 
the "clandestine war" between a CIA-run mercenary force based on 
mountain tribesmen and the Pathet Lao, backed by North Vietnam 
apparently at about the level of the Thai and other mercenaries intro- 
duced by the United States. The bombing of southern Laos was re- 
ported; the clandestine war and the bombing of northern Laos were not, 
apart from tales about North Vietnamese aggression, often fanciful and 
subjected to no critical analysis.'' 

In July 1968, the Southeast Asia correspondent ofLe Monde, Jacques 
Decornoy, published lengthy eyewitness reports of the bombing of 
northern Laos, which had become". . . a world without noise, for the 
surrounding villages have disappeared, the inhabitants themselves liv- 
ing hidden in the mountains ... it is dangerous to lean out at any time 
of the night or day" because of the ceaseless bombardment that leads 
to "the scientific destruction of the areas held by the enemy." He 
describes "the motionless ruins and deserted houses" of the capital of 
Sam Neua district, iirst bombed by the U.S. Air Force in February 1965, 
Much of this "population center" had been "razed to the ground" by 
bombing, and as he arrived he observed the smoking ruins from recent 
raids with phosphorus bombs, the "enormous craters" everywhere in 
the town, the churches and houses "demolished," the remnants of U.S. 


fragmentation bombs dropped to maximize civilian casualties. From 
this town to a distance of thirty kilometers, "no house in the villages 
and hamlets had been spared. Bridges had been destroyed, fields up to 
the rivers were holed with bomb craters."7 After Decornoy's reports, 
there could be no doubt that the U.S. Air Force was directing murder- 
ous attacks against the civilian society of northern Laos. These reports 
of terrible destruction were repeatedly brought to the attention of the 
media, but ignored or, more accurately, suppressed. Later described as 
"secret bombings" in an "executive war," the U.S. attack was indeed 
"secret," not simply because of government duplicity as charged but 
because of press complicity. 

Not omy did the media fail to publish the information about the 
attack against a defenseless civilian society or seek to investigate further 
for themselves, but they proceeded to provide exculpatory accounts 
that they knew to be inaccurate, on the rare occasions when the bomb- 
ing was mentioned at all. As the bombing of Laos began to be reported 
in 1969, the claim was that it was targeted against North Vietnamese 
infiltration routes to South Vietnam (the "Ho Chi Minh trail"), and, 
later, that U.S. planes were providing tactical support to government 
forces fighting North Vietnamese aggressors, a far cry from what 
Decornoy had witnessed and reported, and a much more tolerable 
version of the unacceptable facts, s 

Keeping just to the New York Times, through 1968 there was no 
mention of the bombing apart from tiny items reporting Pathet Lao 
complaints (Dec. 22, 31, 1968). On May 18, 1969, the Times reported U.S. 
bombing in Laos, alleging that it was "directed against routes, including 
the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail, over which the North Vietnamese 
send men and supplies to infiltrate South Vietnam." A June 14 report 
states that "American planes bomb targets aU over Laos, especially 
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in an effort to harass the Pathet Lao, the 
Communist-led rebel movement in Laos, and to stop the flow of enemy 
supplies to South Vietnam." Charles Mohr reported on July 16 that 
U.S. bombing "is directed against infiltration routes from North Viet- 
nam that pass through Laos en route to the South." There is a July 28 
reference to "200 American bombing sorties a day over northeastern 
Laos," directed against North Vietnamese forces, and Hedrick Smith 
adds from Washington on August 2 that the United States "has been 
bombing North Vietnamese concentrations" in Laos. T. D. Allman 
repOlled bombing sorties "in tactical support" of government forces 
fighting the North Vietnamese and "harassing attacks against Commu- 
nist positions all over northeast Laos" on August 25, the latter providing 



the iirst glimpse of something beyond the approved version. Further 
reports of U.S. air power in tactical support and "to cut North Viet- 
namese supply routes" appear on September 7, followed by Allman's 
report of successes of a government offensive with forces "stiffened by 
Thai soldiers," supported by "the most intense American bombing ever 
seen in Laos" (Sept. 18). Then followed reports from Washington and 
Vientiane (Sept. 19, 20, 23, 24, 30) confirming that the U.S. Air Force 
was providing tactical support for government combat missions in addi- 
tion to bombing North Vietnamese infiltration routes, including a Sep- 
tember 23 Agence-France-Presse dispatch reporting "bombing of 
Pathet Lao areas by United States aircraft," thus implying that the 
bombing went well beyond infiltration routes and combat operations, 
common knowledge in Paris and Vientiane but yet to be reported here. 

In short, the terror bombing of northern Laos, although known, 
remained off the agenda, and reporting in general was slight and highly 
misleading, to say the least. Elterman observes that the war in Laos and 
Cambodia was virtually "invisible" in the media through 1969^ apart 
from the leftist National Guardian, which gave substantial coverage to 
what was in fact happening.' 

On October I, 1969, the New York Tmes finally ran an account by 
T. D. Allman, whose valuable reporting throughout the war appeared 
primarily overseas, concluding that "the rebel economy and social fab- 
ric" were "the main United States targets now," and that the American 
bombardment had driven the population to caves and tunnels during 
the daylight hours, making it difficult for the Pathet Lao "to fight a 
'people's war' with fewer and fewer people." Control of territory was 
now of lesser importance, he wrote, "with United States bombers able 
to destroy, almost at will, any given town, bridge, road or concentration 
of enemy soldiers or civilians. "lo 

This confirmation of what had long been known in restricted peace- 
movement circles, and consciously suppressed in the mainstream press, 
passed without particular notice. The CIA clandestine army had swept 
through the Plain of Jars in the preceding months, evacuating all re- 
maining civilians to areas near Vientiane, where they and their harrow- 
ing stories were largely ignored by the well-represented media, 
although available elsewhere. 

Walter Haney, a Lao-speaking American who compiled a detailed 
collection of refugee interviews that was described as "serious and 
carefully prepared" by U.S. Ambassador to Laos William Sullivan, 
quotes remarks by a UN official in Laos as "the most concise account 
of the bombing": 


By 1968 the intensity of the bombings was such that no organized 
hfe was possible in the villages. The villages moved to the outskirts 
and then deeper and deeper into the forest as the bombing reached 
its peak in 1969 when jet planes came daily and destroyed aU 
statiOQary structures. Nothing was left standing. The villagers 
lived in trenches and holes or in caves. They only farmed at night. 
{Each} of the informants, without any exception, had his village 
completely destroyed. In the last phase, bombings were aimed at 
the systematic destruction of the (material} basis of the civilian 
society. 12 

A staff study by a Kennedy subcommittee concluded that a main pur- 
pose of the U.S. bombardment was "to destroy the physical and social 
infrastructure" in areas held by the Pathet Lao, a conclusion well 
supported by the factual record. >^ 

There were also eyewitness reports of the destruction of northern 
Laos by Western reporters, but published overseas. T. D. Allman flew 
over the Plain of Jars in late 1971, reporting that "it is empty and 
ravaged" by the napalm and B-SZ saturation bombing being "used in 
an attempt to extinguish all human life in the target area"; "All vegeta- 
tion has been destroyed and the craters, literally, are countless" and 
often impossible to distinguish among the "endless patches of churned 
earth, repeatedly bombed." At the same time, the V^afhington Post 
published the statement of Air Force Secretary Robert Seamans, who 
reported from northern Laos that "I have seen no evidence of indis- 
criminate bombing"; it is the North Vietnamese who are "rough," and 
the people are not "against the United States-just the opposite." The 
Lao-speaking Australian reporter John Everingham traveled in 1970 
"through dying village after dying village" of the Hmong tribesmen 
who had been "naive enough to trust the CIA" and were now being 
offered "a one-way 'copter ride to death' " in the CIA clandestine army, 
in the remains of a country where bombing had "turned more than half 
the total area of Laos to a land of charred ruins where people fear the 
sky" so that "nothing be left standing or ahve for the communists to 
inherit." No U.S. journal, apart from the tiny pacifist press, was inter- 
ested enough to run his story, although later the media were to bewail 
the plight of the miserable remnants of the Hmong, put on display as 
"victims of Communism." In 1970, the Bangkok World (Oct. 7) pub- 
lished an AP report on U.S. bombing that was "wiping out" towns, and 
by ]972 such repons sometimes appeared in the U.S. press.''* Later, 
Nayan Chanda visited the Plain of Jars, reporting overseas that from 
the air it "resembles a luna. landscape, pockmarked as it is with bomb 


craters that are a stark testimony to the years of war that denuded the 
area of people and buildings" during "six years of 'secret' bombing" by 
U.S. aircraft, while "at ground level, the signs of death and destruction 
are even more ubiquitous," including the provincial capital, "com- 
pletely razed," as had been reported earlier by refugees who were 
ignored. Following the practice of American volunteers during the war, 
American relief workers with long experience in Laos attempted to 
bring information about postwar Laos to the media-with little effect- 
and inform us privately that their accounts were seriously distorted by 
New York Times reporters "by the device of omission and taking the 
negative side of balanced statements we made" and similar means. 

The U.S. government officially denied all of this, continuing the 
deception even after the facts were exposed and known in some detail 
to those concerned enough to learn them. Many regarded the U.S. war 
in Laos as "a success" (Senators Jacob Javits and Stuart Symington), 
or even "A spectacular success" (a former CIA officer in Laos, Thomas 
McCoy). 16 

In scale and care, the extensive analysis of refugee reports by a few 
young American volunteers in Laos compares very favorably to the 
subsequent studies of refugees from Cambodia that received massive 
publicity in the West after the Khmer Rouge takeover, and the story 
was both gruesome and highly pertinent to ongoing U.S. operations. 
But there was little interest, and published materials, which appeared 
primarily outside of the mainstream, were virtually ignored and quickly 
forgotten; the agency of terror was inappropriate for the needs of the 
doctrinal system. Media failure to report the facts when they were 
readily available, in 1968, and to investigate further when they were 
undeniable, by late 1969, contributed to the successful deception of the 
public, and to the continuing destruction. 

When the war ended, ABC News commentator Harry Reasoner 
expressed his hope that Laos and its "gentle folk" could return to 
peaceful ways after "the clowning of the CIA and the vicious invasion 
of the North Vietnamese." 17 The "clowning of the CIA" included the 
destruction of "the rebel economy and social fabric" in northern Laos, 
with unknown numbers killed in areas that may never recover, and the 
decimation of the Hmong who were enlisted in the CIA cause and then 
abandoned when no longer useful. Nothing remotely comparable may 
be attributed to "the vicious invasion of the North Vietnamese"- 
which did, however, include such atrocities as killing twelve U.S. Air 
Force men in Match 1968 at a U.S. radar base near the North Viet- 
namese border used to direct the bombing of Nonh Vietnam and 
operations in North Vietnam by U.S. -led mercenaries.'^ 


The New York Times reviewed the war in Laos at the war's end, 
concluding that 350,000 people had been killed, over a tenth of the 
population, with another tenth uprooted in this "fratricidal strife that 
was increased to tragic proportions by warring outsiders." The "fratri- 
cidal strife" might well have been terminated by the 1958 coalition 
government had it not been for "outsiders," with the United States 
playing a decisive role throughout, a role completely ignored in this 
purported historical analysis apart from a few misleading comments. At 
this late date, the Times continued to pretend that the U.S. bombing 
was directed against North Vietnamese supply trails -nothing else is 
mentioned. The crucial events of the actual history also disappear, or 
are grossly misrepresented. Subsequent reporting also regularly 
obliterated the U.S. role in creating the devastation and postwar "prob- 
lems" attributed to the Communists alone, a shameful evasion in the 
light of the undisputed historical facts. 

Once again, the media record, less than glorious, is well explained 
throughout by the propaganda model. 


6.2.1. "The decade of the genocide" 

Few countries have suffered more bitterly than did Cambodia during 
the 1970s. The "decade of the genocide," as the period is termed by the 
Finnish Inquiry Commission that attempted to assess what had taken 
place,20 consisted of three phases-now extending the time scale to the 
present^ which bears a heavy imprint of these terrible years: 

Phase I: From 1969 through April 1975, U.S. bombing at a histori- 
cally unprecedented level and a civil war sustained by the United 
States left the country in utter ruins. Though Congress legislated 
an end to the bombing in August 1973, U.S. government participa- 
tion in the ongoing slaughter continued until the Khmer Rouge 
victory in April 1975.^^ 

Phase II: From April 1975 through 1978 Cambodia was subjected j 
to the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge (Democratic Kampu- j 
chea, DK), overthrown by the Vietnamese invasion of CTambodiaj 
in December 197^' ^ \ 



Phase III: Vietnam installed the Heng Samrin regime in power in 
Cambodia, but the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) coalition, based 
primarily on the Khmer Rouge, maintained international recogni- 
tion apart from the Soviet bloc. Reconstructed with the aid of 
China and the United States on the Thai-Cambodia border and 
in Thai bases, the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, the only effective DK 
military force, continue to carry out activities in Cambodia of a 
sort called "terrorist" when a friendly government is the target. 

We turn now to the travail of Cambcdia during these grim years, and 
the way it has been depicted, first with some preliminary observations 
and then in further detail, phase by phase. 

6.2.2. Problems of scale and 

The three phases of the "decade of the genocide" have fared quite 
differently in the media and general culture, and in a way that conforms 
well to the expectations of a propaganda model. Phase I, for which the 
United States bore primary responsibility, was little investigated at the 
time, or since, and has never been described with anything like the 
condemnatory terms applied to phase II. The vast number of Cambodi- 
ans killed, injured, and traumatized in this period were, in our concep- 
tualization of chapter 2, "unworthy" victims. 

Phase II, the Pol Pot era, is the "holocaust" that was widely com- 
pared to the worst atrocities of Hitler and Stalin, virtually from the 
outset, with massive publicity and outrage at the suffering of these 
"worthy" victims. 

Phase III renewed the status of the people of Cambodia as worthy 
victims, suffering under Vietnamese rule. The Vietnamese being official 
enemies of the United States, they quickly became the villains of the 
piece, responsible for unspeakable conditions within Cambodia and 
guilty of unprovoked aggression. Meanwhile, the United States backed 
its ally China as it conducted a punitive invasion of Vietnam in Febru- 
ary 1979 and reconstructed the defeated Pol Pot forces. 

In the early Stages of phase III, it was alleged "that the Vietnamese 
are now conducting a subtle 'genocide' in Cambodia," a charge tacitly 
endorsed in a CIA demographic study, which estimated a population 
drop of 700,000 during "the first year of the Heng Samrin rtde."22 This 
new "holocaust" was constructed on the basis of serious misinterpreta- 


tion of available evidence, as was demonstrated by Michael Vickery in 
a response to William Shawcross's warnings of "the end of Cam- 
bodia, "23 but not before it had left its mark on popular perceptions, and 
many distortions and, indeed, contradictions persist. In his Quality of 
Mercy, Shawcross agrees that, as Vickery had concluded, there was no 
large-scale famine of the chaiacter initially reported,24 but he later 
wrote that the Heng Samrin regime "was responsible for creating many 
of the conditions that caused the famine" in Cambodia. These conflict- 
ing accounts were noted by Australian Cambodia scholar Ben Kiernan, 
who suggested a partial explanation: "There was a threat of famine, as 
the Heng Samrin government proclaimed in mid-1919. But it was offset 
by the small but crucial December- January harvest, which Shawcross 
hardly mentions, and by the massive international aid program, which 
he regularly denigrates. "2'* 

The eagerness to uncover Vietnamese villainy in "ending Cam- 
bodia," the easy reliance on sources known to be unreliable,^' and the 
subsequent evasions after the accusations dissolve are readily explained 
by U.S, (indeed, general Western-bloc) hostility to Vietnam, which led 
the United States to aMgn itself quietly with Pol Pot and to transform 
its alleged concern over Cambodians to the victims of the Vietnamese 

Phase III also had a domestic U,S. aspect that is highly relevant to 
our concerns. In an intriguing exercise, characteristic of system-sup- 
portive propaganda campaigns, it was charged that the horrors of phase 
II were passed over in "silence" at the time. This alleged fact, devel- 
oped in William Shawcross's influential book Quality ojMercy, elicited 
much commentary on "Holocaust and Modem. Conscience," the subti- 
tle of Shawcross's book, and on the failure of civilized people to react 
appropriately to ongoing atrocities. In "Phase III at home" (p. 288), we 
will turn to the merits of this charge with regard to phase 11. As for 
phase I of "the decade of the genocide," the charge of silence is dis- 
tinctly applicable, but it was never raised, then or now, nor is phase I 
designated a period of "holocaust" or "genocide" in mainstream litera- 
ture. Phase 1 elicited no calls for international intervention or trials for 
crimes against humanity, and it has since been largely expunged frotti 
the record. In retrospect, the harshest critics within the mainstream 
attribute "the destruction of Cambodian society" during phase I to 
"years of warfare" and "careless policies ofthe White House," nothing 
more,27 The issue of U.S, bombing of Cambodia did arise during the 
Watergate hearings, but the primary concern there was the failure to 
notify Congress. 

Michael Vickery suggests an "interesting comparison which an in- 


vestigative journalist might make" if truly concerned about the prob- 
lems of the region-namely, between Cambodia, during phase III, and 
Thailand, "where there has been no war, foreign invasion, carpet 
bombing, nor revolution, and where foreign investment is massive and 
the sympathy of the most advanced western powers is enjoyed," but 
where conditions in the peasant society were so terrible that "since 1980 
substantial foreign 'refugee' aid near the border has been given to 
'Affected Thai Villagers,' whose health and living standard, much to the 
shock of foreign aid personnel, were found to be little better than the 
condition of Cambodian refugees."^* No such comparison was under- 
taken, nor was there even a flicker of concern over simultaneous re- 
ports, buried in appropriate obscurity, about the tens of thousands of 
children, many under ten years old, working as "virtual slaves" in Thai 
factories resembling concentration camps,^' nor over the normal condi- 
tions of peasant life in the region, now exposed to the visitors flocking 
to the border camps to witness the consequences of Communist terror 
and express their compassion for its victims. 

The actual scale of the slaughter and destruction during the two 
authentic phases of large-scale killings during the "decade of the geno- 
cide" (phases 1 and 11) would be difficult to estimate at best, and the 
problems have been compounded by a virtual orgy of falsification serv- 
ing political ends that are all too obvious. 3° The Finnish Inquiry Com- 
mission estimates that about 600,ooo people in a population of over 
seven million died during phase 1, while two million people became 
refugees. 31 For the second phase, they give 75,ooo to i50,ooo as a 
"realistic estimate" for outright executions, and a figure of roughly one 
million dead from killings, hunger, disease, and overwork. Vickery's 
analysis is the most careful attempt to sort out the confused facts to 
date. He accepts as plausible a "war loss" of over 500,000 for the first 
phase, calculated from the CIA estimates but lower than their conclu- 
sions (see note 31), and about 750,000 "deaths in excess of normal and 
due to the special conditions of OK," with perhaps 200,000 to 300,000 
executed and a total population decline for this period of about 


These estimates, the most careful currently available in print to our 
knowledge, suggest that the toll under phase II of "the genocide" is 
somewhat greater than that under phase I, although not radically dif- 
ferent in scale. But before accepting these figures at face value we must 
bear in mind that part of the death toll under phase II must be at- 
tributed to the conditions left by the U.S. war. As the war ended, deaths 
from starvation in Phnom Penh alone were running at about 100,000 
a year, and the U.S. airlift that kept the population ahve was immedi- 


ately terminated. Sources close to the U.S. government predicted a 
million deaths in Cambodia if U.S. aid were to cease. A Western doctor 
working in Phnom Penh in 1974-75 reported that 

This generation is going to be a lost generation of children. Mal- 
nutrition is going to affect their numbers and their mental capaci- 
ties. So, as well as knocking off a generation of young men, the war 
is knocking off a generation of children. 

The V.S. embassy estimated that available rice in Phnom Penh would 
suffice for at most a few weeks. The final V.S. AID report observed that 
the country faced famine in 1975, with 75 percent of hs draft animals 
destroyed by the war, and that rice planting for the next harvest, eight 
months hence, would have to be done "by the hard labor of seriously 
malnourished people." The report predicted "widespread starvation" 
and "Slave labor and starvation rations for half the nation's people" for 
the coming year, and "general deprivation and suffering . . . over the 
next two or three years before Cambodia can get back to rice self- 

There is also the matter of the effect of the U.S. bombing on the 
Khmer Rouge and the peasant society that provided their social base, 
a factor noted by all serious analysts. Cambodia specialist Milton Os- 
borne concludes that Communist terror was "surely a reaction to the 
terrible bombing of Communist-held regions" by the U,S. Air Force. 
Another Cambodia scholar, David Chandler, comments that the bomb- 
ing turned "thousands of young Cambodians into participants in an 
anti-American crusade," as it "destroyed a good deal of the fabric of 
prewar Cambodian society and provided the CPK (Khmer Rouge] with 
the psychological ingredients of a violent, vengeful, and unrelenting 
social revolution," a "class warfare between the 'base people: who had 
been bombed, and the 'new people' who had taken refuge from the 
bombing and thus had taken sides, in CPK thinking, with the United 
States." "French intransigence had turned nationalists into Commu- 
nists," Philip Windsor observ'eSj while "American ruthlessness now 
turned Communists into totalitarian fanatics."^ One may debate the 
weight that should be assigned to this factor in determining Khmer 
Rouge policies, embittering the peasant society of "base people," and 
impelling them to force those they perceived as collaborators in their 
destruction to endure the lives of poor peasants or worse. But that it 
was a factor can hardly be doubted. 

Assessing these various elements, it seems fair to describe the re- 


sponsibility of the United States and Pol Pot for atrocities during "the 
decade of the genocide" as being roughly in the same range. 

Little is known about phase I of "the genocide." There was little 
interest in ascertaining the facts, at the time or since. The Finnish 
Inquiry Commission Report devotes three cursory pages to the topic, 
because the information available is so meager. The second phase has 
been far mOre intensively studied, and by now substantial evidence is 
available about what took place. David Chandler and Ben Kiernan 
observe that as a result of the intense interest in phase II, "we know 
a great deal more about the texture of daily hfe in Democratic Kampu- 
chea, supposedly a 'hermit' regime, than we do about the ostensibly 
open regimes of the Khmer Republic (1970-1975) or the Sihanouk era 
(1954-1970) which preceded it,"'^ Despite this already large imbalance 
in knowledge, the Cambodia Documentation Center in New York City 
concentrates on phase II of the genocide. The dramatic difference in 
the information available for the two phases, and the focus of the 
ongoing research effort, are readily explicable in terms of a propaganda 

Outside of marginal Maoist circles, there was virtually no doubt from 
early on that the Khmer Rouge regime under the emerging leader Pol 
Pot was responsible for gruesome atrocities. But there were differing 
assessments of the scale and character of these crimes. 

State Department Cambodia specialists were skeptical of the allega- 
tions that had received wide publicity by 1977-rightly, so subsequent 
inquiry revealed. The Far Eastern Economic Review based its January 
1979 conclusion that the population had actually risen during the Pol 
Pot period on CIA sources, and its very knowledgeable correspondent 
Nayan Chanda, discussing the background for the Vietnamese inva- 
sion, reported that "some observers are convinced that had the Cambo- 
dian regime got a year's reprieve, its internal and international image 
would have been improved enough to make any Vietnamese drive 
difficult if not impossible."36 

Differing assessments persisted even after the abundant evidence 
provided by the flow of refugees to Thailand in 1979 and visits to 
Cambodia, which also provided the first significant information about 
the years 1977-78. At one extreme, Pol Pot continued to be described 
as having forged new patterns of genocide comparable to the worst 
excesses of Hitler and Stalin. At the other extreme, we have the postwar 
evaluation by U.S. government specialist Douglas Pike, now head of the 
University of California Indochina Archives, the "independent- 
minded" scholar lauded by Freedom House and the exemplar of the 


new, nonideological scholarship much admired by the Nev) York Times. 
Pike described Pol Pot in November 1979 as the "charismatic" leader 
of a "bloody but successful peasant revolution with a substantial resi- 
due of popular support," under which "on a statistical basis, most of 
them [peasants] - - - did not experience much in the way of brutality."37 
The 1980 CIA demographic study assigns the Pol Pot-era executions 
to the period ending in January 1977, and for 1977-78 merely says that 
"living conditions most likely did not vary during these two years from 
the conditions during 1976." although as was known when the CIA 
study was undertaken, these later years were the worst, by far. in the 
context of internal purges and the escalating conflict with Vietnam at 
a time when the United States was beginning its "tilt" toward China 
and Pol Pot. The CIA concludes that among the "old people," the 
"rural population" who were "the foundation for the new Khmer 
Rouge revolutionary society." there was a slight increase in population 
through the DK period. A still more muted assessment is provided by 
the close U.S. ally Deng Xiaoping, who emerged as "party strongman" 
in China in December 1978 and soon implemented his plan to "punish 
Vietnam," and who remained the main supporter of Pol Pot. He bitterly 
opposed attempts to remove the Khmer Rouge from their leading role 
in the DK coalition in 1984. stating in a rage that "I do not understand 
why some people want to remove Pol Pot. It is true that he made some 
mistakes in the past but now he is leading the fight against the Viet- 
namese aggressors. "38 Deng has been backed in this stance by the 
Reagan administration (see "Phase III in Indochina," p. 285).38 

In addition to such real examples of less harsh interpretations of the 
Pol Pot period, there are also mythical ones to which we return. 

6.2.3. The "not-so-gentle" land: 
some relevant history 

Part of the illusory story constructed about Cambodia during the 1970S 
and since is that this "gentle land" with its "smiling people" had known 
little suffering before the country was drawn into the Indochina war and 
then subjected to Pol Pot "autogenocide." The reality is different. 
Behind the famous "Khmer smile," as Prince Sihanouk's French ad- 
viser Charles Meyer observed, lies ample bitterness and violence. 39 
Vickery observes that earlier chronicles "are filled with references to 
public executions, ambushes, torture, village-burnings and forced emi- 
gration," with the destruction of villages and landscapes, torture, and 


killing a matter of course, and few institutional restraints on terror. The 
peasantry of inner Cambodia, largely unknown to Western scholarship 
or to the urban population, appear to have hved under conditions of 
extreme violence and hatred for the oppressors from outside the village. 

During the French war of reconquest in the late 1940s, up to "per- 
haps one million rural inhabitants .. . were forcibly 'regrouped.' " The 
huge flow of refugees to Phnom Penh during phase f of the "decade 
of the genocide" was not the first massive dislocation in recent history, 
Vickery continues, adding that it is, furthermore, "a strange kind of 
history" that regards the displacement of people fleeing from U.S. 
bombs and savage fighting "as somehow less abhorrent or more 'nor- 
mal' than the reverse movement of 1975," the forcible evacuation when 
the peasant army of the Khmer Rouge conquered the city. Leaders of 
the anti-French resistance after World War II describe horrifying 
atrocities conducted with obvious pleasure as a "normal" part of 
"Khmer mores." In the same years, government forces led by Lon NOl, 
who was to head the U.S. -backed client government in the early 1970s, 
carried out wholesale massacres in villages as the French withdrew, 
induding such "individual tests of strength" as "grasping infants by the 
legs and pulling them apart," actions that "had probably not been 
forgonen by the men of that area who survived to become the Khmer 
Rouge troops" whose later atrocities in this "gentle land" aroused such 
outrage in the West. "Thus for the rural 80-90 percent of the Cambo- 
dian people," Vickery concludes, "arb.itrary justice, sudden violent 
death, political oppression, exploitative use of religion and anti-reli- 
gious reaction, both violent and quiescent, were common facts of life 
long before the war and revolution of the 1970s." These conditions 
elicited no interest in the West. "The creations of Pol Pot-ism were all 
there in embryo," Vickery continues, to be "directed first of all at the 
urban population" after a war which was in large measure "a war 
between town and countryside in which the town's battle was increas- 
ingly for the sole purpose of preserving its privileges while the rural 
areas suffered."** 

It is superfluous to observe that the United States deployed its ample 
means of violence in defense of urban privilege. But, in fact, these tasks 
were only of secondary importance. For the United States, the destruc- 
tion of rural Cambodia was ancillary to the goal of maintaining in power 
the client regime in South Vietnam. 

Contrary to the arrangements in Laos and Vietnam, the Geneva 
Accords afforded no recognition lo Ihe anti-French resistance in Cam- 
bodia, a source of much binerness. The country was ruled by Prince 
Sihanouk until March 1970, when he was overthrown in a coup sup- 


ported by the United States. 41 Throughout this period, Sihanouk at- 
tempted a difficult balancing act both internally and externally. Within 
Cambodia, he repressed the left and peasant uprisings and attempted 
to hold off the right, although powei largely remained in the hands of 
right-wing urban elites throughout. Externally, he tried to preserve a 
measure of neutrality against the background of the expanding Indo- 
china war, which, he expected, would end in a Communist victory.42 

Sihanouk's neutralist efforts were unappreciated by the United 
States and its allies. Diem's troops attacked border regions from 1957, 
and there were also Thai provocations. A coup attempt in 1959, proba- 
bly backed by the CIA, as generally assumed in Cambodia, was foiled; 
this should be seen in the context of general U.S. subversion in the 
region in the post-Geneva period, induding a CIA-backed coup and 
invasion aimed at overthrowing Sukarno in Indonesia in 1958, subver- 
sion of the elected government of Laos in the same year, and the efforts 
to destroy the anti-French resistance within South Vietnam and to 
consolidate the Diem dictatorship while undermining the political ar- 
rangements at Geneva. By 1963, CIA-backed Khmer Serei forces fre- 
quently attacked Cambodia from South Vietnamese and Thai bases at 
a time when the United States was intensifying its clandestine opera- 
tions in Laos and maneuvering, with increasing violence, to block a 
political settlement in South Vietnam. By 1966, the Khmer Serei "de- 
clared war on Cambodia and claimed responsibility for incursions 
across the border. "43 

Attacks by U.S. and Saigon anny forces against border posts and 
villages in Cambodia intensified from the early 1960s, causing hundreds 
of casualties a year. Later, Vietnamese peasants and guerrillas fled for 
refuge to border areas in Cambodia, particularly after the murderous 
U.S. military operations In South Vietnam in early 1967, giving rise to 
cynical charges from Washington, echoed in the media, about Commu- 
nist encroachment into neutral Cambodia. By the time of the 1970 coup 
that overthrew Sihanouk, Vietnamese were scattered along border areas 
to a maximum depth of about twenty-five kilometers, according to most 
sources. The first evidence of Vietnamese encampments in Cambodia 
was discovered in late 1967, close to the unmarked border. While there 
was much outrage in the United States about "North Vietnamese ag- 
gression," the internal view In Washington was considerably more 
nuanced. From the Pentagon Papers we learn that as late as May 1967- 
weU after the U.S. operations that caused cross-border flight-high 
Pentagon officials believed that Cambodia was "becoming more and 
more imponant as a supply base-now of food and medicines, perhaps 
ammunition later. " A yeai earlier, an American study team investigated 


specific charges by the U.S. government on the scene and found them 
without substance although they did come across the site of a recent 
U.S. helicopter-gunship attack on a Cambodian village (one of many, 
according to the local population), first denied by the U.S. government, 
then conceded, since American eyewitnesses (including CBS-TV) were 
present-the usual pattern. 

The Cambodian government reported many such incidents. Thus 
Cambodia complained to the United Nations that on February 24, 1967, 
"a large number of armed forces elements consisting of Americans, 
South Vietnamese and South Koreans entered Cambodian territory 
and fired heavily on the Khmer village of Chrak Kranh . . . [which 1 was 
then invaded and burnt by the United States-South Vietnamese 
troops" who occupied the village until March 3. By April 1969, rubber 
plantations were subjected to defoliation by air attack. In January 1970, 
an official Cambodian government White Paper reported thousands of 
such incidents with many deaths, giving pictures, dates, and other 
details, and also noting that not a single Viet Cong body had ever been 
found after U.S. -Saigon bombardments or ground attacks. 

Virtually none of this was ever reported in the United States-even 
the official White Paper- although the information was readily availa- 
ble in official documents and reputable foreign sources, and in easily 
ignored peace-movement literature.** The agency of violence was once 
again the wrong one. 

The occasional media reaction to these incursions was instructive. 
On March 25, 1964, New York Times correspondent Max Frankel, now 
executive editor, reported a Saigon army (ARVN) attack on the Cam- 
bodian village of Chantrea with armored cars and bombers, leaving 
many villagers killed and wounded. The ARVN forces were accom- 
panied by U.S. advisers, including a U.S. army pilot "dragged from the 
wreckage" of an observer plane "shot down in the action." Diplomats 
on the scene confirmed that "at least one troop-carrying helicopter had 
landed at Chantrea with three Americans on board." Frankel was out- 
raged-at Cambodia, which had the gall to demand reparations, leaving 
Washington "alarmed and saddened, but confused." The headline 
reads: "Stomping on U.S. Toes: Cambodia Typical of Many Small 
Nations Putting Strain on a Policy of Patience." Cambodia has "bor- 
rowed a leaf from Fidel Castro's book," Frankel stormed, by requesting 
compensation for this U.S. atrocity: "It is open season again for the 

weaker nations to stomp on the toes of big ones Leading the pack 

in big-power baiting these days is one of the smallest of nations, the 
Southeast Asian kingdom of Cambodia" with its "clever, headstrong, 
erratic leader," whom Washington finds "lacking some of the talent and 



temperament for the job," although "the Administration's instinct has 
been to try to save a wayward young nation's independence in spite of 
itself and, at times, despite its own leaders." Washington is also alarmed 
by "Cambodia's current effort to force the United States into a major 
conference that would embarrass its Thai and Vietnamese friends," 
Frankel continues, an effort that will "be resisted" -referring to a 
conference that would settle border questions and guarantee Cam- 
t>od5a'$ neutrality at a time when the United States was desperately 
seeking to undermine international efforts to neutralize South Vietnam, 
Laos, and Cambodia so as to avert the major war toward which the 
United States was driving because of its political weakness in Indo- 

This classic of colonialist paternalism reflects quite accurately the 
general mood of the day-as does the refusal ro report such trivial 
matters as the regular V.S.-ARVN attacks on Cambodia, which have 
largely passed from history in the United States, apart from the dissi- 
dent literature. 

6.2.4. Phase I: The U.S. destruction 
of Cambodia 

On March 18, 1969, the notorious "secret bombings" began. One week 
later, on March 26, the Cambodian government publicly condemned 
the bombing and strafing of "the Cambodian population living in the 
border regions . . . almost daily by U.S. aircraft," with increasing killing 
and destruction, alleging that these attacks were directed against 
"peaceful Cambodian farmers" and demanding that "these criminal 

attacks must immediately and definitively stop " Prince Sihanouk 

called a press conference on March 28 in which he emphatically denied 
reports circulating in the United States that he "would not oppose U.S. 
bombings of communist targets within my frontiers." "Unarmed and 
innocent people have been victims of U.S. bombs," including "the 
latest bombing, the victims of which were Khmer peasants, women and 
children in particular." He then issued an appeal to the international 
press: "I appeal to you to publicize abroad this very clear stand of 
Cambodia-that is, 1 will in any case oppose all bombings on Cambo- 
dian territory under whatever pretext. "45 

It wUl come as no surprise that his appeal went unanswered. Further- 
more, this material has been suppressed up to the present time, apart 
from the dissident literature.**- The standard position within the main- 


Stream, adopted by defenders of the bombing and critics as well, is that 
"Sihanouk did not protest" (William Shawcross). When the "secret 
bombings" became public knowledge in 1973, it was claimed that Siha- 
nouk had privately authorized bombing of Vietnamese bases near the 
border areas. True or false, that is irrelevant to the suppression of 
Sihanouk's impassioned appeals, which referred to the bombing of 
Khmer peasants. Furthermore, as we observed in earlier discussion, 
"while commentators and media analysts may draw whatever conclu- 
sions they please from the conflicting evidence available, this does not 
entitle them to suppress what is, by any standards, crucial evidence, in 
this case, Sihanouk's attempt to arouse international protest over the 
U.S. bombing of the civilian society. "47 

Reviewing this period in his Cambodia Year Zero, Fran90is Pon- 
chaud remarks that Sihanouk called the U.S. bombings of "Vietcong 
bases" a "scandal and a crime over Radio Phnom Penh, but nobody was 
deceived." Ponchaud and his readers, however, are deceived: Sihanouk 
publicly denounced the bombing and other attacks on Klimer peasants, 
and not only over Radio Phnom Penh but in quite public documents 
and appeals to the international press. In his Sideshow, Shawcross says 
only that Cambodia "continued to denounce" American air and artil- 
lery attacks through 1969, but "made no public protest that specifically 
mentioned B-52 attacks" (p. 94) — truCj but irrelevant for the reasons 
repeated in the last paragraph.^^ 

In May 1969, William Beecher reported B-52 raids on "Vietcong and 
North Vietnamese supply dumps and base camps in Cambodia," citing 
U.S. sources. Beecher stated that "Cambodia has not made any pro- 
test," disregarding Sihanouk's appeals and his protest against the mur- 
der of "Khmer peasants, women and children in particular," not 
Vietnamese military bases. Beecher also commented that "in the past, 
American and South Vietnamese forces had occasionally fired across 
the bOrder and even called in fighters or helicopter gunships to counter 
fire they received from enemy units there," ignoring the somewhat 
more important fact that U.S. aircraft and U.S.-ARVN- South Korean 
forces had been attacking Cambodian villages, according to the 
"friendly" government of Cambodia. The headline for his article states 
falsely: "Raids in Cambodia by U.S. Unprotested." Beecher's article 
caused consternation in Washington, setting olf the first stage of what 
later became the Watergate scandaL As we have commented elsewhere, 
"It is remarkable that Beecher's unique though quite inadequate ac- 
count is now held up as evidence that the press maintained its honor 
throughout this period, despite the crimes of Richard Nixon."49 

Once again, the U.S. escalation of the war against Cambodia in 1969 


coincided with similar efforts in Laos and Vietnam. The general reac- 
tion was similar throughout, and remains so. The post-Tet accelerated 
pacification campaign, which thoroughly demolished the civilian base 
of the NLF, was regarded as 80 uninteresting that it is passed over in 
virtual silence in the popular retrospectives. As for the wars in Laos and 
Cambodia, Elterman comments, after reviewing the major media cover- 
age, that apart from the "alternative press," they were virtually "invisi- 
ble" in the press in 1969 when they were expanding to new heights as 
the U.S. Air Force was shifted from North Vietnam to Laos and Cam- 
bodia after the "bombing halt, -so 

In March 1970, Cambodia was drawn irrevocably into the carnage 
sweeping Indochina. On March 18, Sihanouk was overthrown in "an 
upper-class coup, not a revolution," carried out for "interests of domes- 
tic and political expedience," and with at least "indirect U.S. support," 
if not more.''' Two days later, ARVN ground and air operations began 
in Svay Rieng Province, at the Vietnamese border, continuing through 
April and leading to the U.S. -ARVN invasion on April 29, conducted 
with an extreme brutality sometimes vividly depicted in the media, 
which were particularly appalled by the behavior of the ARVN forces. 
Much of the enormous civilian toll, however, resulted from air power, 
including U.S. bombing strikes that leveled or severely damaged towns 
and villages. One effect of the invasion was to drive the Vietnamese 
forces away from the border and deeper into Cambodia, where they 
began to support the growing peasant resistance against the coup lead- 
ers. A second effect, as described by U.S. correspondent Richard Dud- 
man, who witnessed these events at first hand after his capture by the 
Cambodian resistance, was that "the bombing and shooting was radi- 
calizing the people of rural Cambodia and was turning the countryside 
into a massive, dedicated, and effective revolutionary base."" Cam- 
bodia was now pluAged into civil war, with increasing savagery on both 

U.S. bombing continued at a high level after the withdrawal ofU.S. 
forces from Cambodia. By late 1971, an investigating team of the Gen- 
eral Accounting Office concluded that U.S. and Saigon army bombing 
is "a very significant cause of refugees and civihan casualties," estimat- 
ing that almost a third of the seven-million population may be refugees. 
U.S. intelligence reported that "what the villagers feared most was the 
possibility of indiscriminate artillery and air strikes," and refugee re- 
ports and other sources confirm that these were the major cause of 
civilian casualties and the flight of refugees.^'* 

Information about what Vfas happening in the peasant society of 
Cambodia in the early 1970S was limited but not unavailable. There 


were, first of all, many refugees with stories to tell, although the media 
were not interested. There was also an eyewitness account by French 
Southeast Asia specialist Serge Thion, who spent two weeks in regions 
controlled by the Cambodian guerrillas. His reports were offered to the 
Washington Posh but rejected. They were of no more interest than the 
reports of Ufe under the bombing in Laos, or similar questions regard- 
ing Vietnam throughout the war and in the retrospectives. 

As in Laos, the escalating war remained largely "invisible" in the 
media. Surveying a five-month period in early 1972 in the national 
press, Elterman found that "In terms of war casualties, the focus in 
The New York Times and Time was on military -related deaths and 
almost always only those that occurred in Vietnam, ignoring also the 

civilian deaths and refugees in that country too During the winter 

and spring of 1972, the war in Cambodia and Laos was ignored more 
than usually with most of the Indo-China news coverage given to the 
North Vietnamese offensive into South Vietnam and the United States 

bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong Time, in fact, had more coverage 

on civilian casualties in Northern Ireland during the first half of 1972 
than it did on the Indo-China War."56 

Meanwhile, Cambodia was being systematically demolished, and the 
Khmer Rouge, hitherto a marginal element, were becoming a significant 
force with substantial peasant support in inner Cambodia, increasingly 
victimized by U.S. terror. As for the U.S. -backed Lon Nol regime, 
Michael Vickery points out that their "client mentality" and subse- 
quent "dependency led them to acquiesce in, or even encourage, the 
devastation of their own country by one of the worst aggressive on- 
slaughts in modern warfare, and therefore to appear as traitors to a 
victorious peasant army which had broken with old patron-client rela- 
tionships and had been self-consciously organized and indoctrinated 
for individual, group, and national self-reliance."*' 

In early 1973, U.S. bombing increased to a scale that might truly 
merit the term "genocidal" used by the Finnish Inquiry Commission. 
In the five-month period after the signing of the Paris peace accords, 
the bombing matched the level of the preceding three years,58 and it was 
to continue at that level until Congress forced a halt in August- 
although bombing and shelling of the countryside by armies of the 
U.S. -backed regime were to continue on a substantial scale, with U.S. 
guidance and supply, until the war's end. Over a million refugees fled 
to Phnom Penh, which became a horror chamber while the countryside 
was laid waste, including B-S2 bombing targeted "on the most heavily 
populated areas of Cambodia," where U.S. Air Force maps showed 
"thousands of square miles of densely populated, fertile areas . . . 



marked black from the inundation" -"the careless policies of the White 
House" criticized by William Shawcross.^' At just this time, Khmer 
Rouge programs became extremely harsh, so available studies indicate, 
including a refugee study by Kenneth Quinn, of the National Security 
Council staff, who never considers a possible causal connection, how- 
ever, between the harshening of policy and the sharp increase in the 
program of saturation bombing. Timothy Carney, the second of the 
three major U.S. government specialists on Cambodia (Quinn, Carney, 
Charles Twining), also notes that "sometime in 1973 the party appar- 
ently decided to accelerate its program to alter Khmer society," for no 
suggested reason. 60 

6.2.5. Phase I in the media 

During this period, there was extensive media coverage of Cambodia, 
and there was no dearth of evidence on what was taking place in the 
regions subjected to U.S. Air Force atrocities. It was not necessary to 
undertake a difficult expedition to the Thai-Cambodia border to find 
refugees who would tell what they knew, but the victims of phase I of 
"the decade of the genocide" who were huddled in the slums of Phnom 
Penh or other towns and villages to which they fled were of no more 
interest than those in the miserable camps on the outskirts of Vien- 
tiane-unless they had tales of terror by the Cambodian insurgents to 
recount (the Vietnamese long having faded into the background).6I No 
books or articles were written by Father Ponchaud, who lived among 
the peasants and sympathized deeply with their plight, so he informed 
us when the time came to expose atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. The 
same was true of many others who were later to expres^ their heartfelt 
concerns for Cambodians suffering under Khmer Rouge terror, but 
who did not seek to investigate and publicize the plight of the rural 
population during phase I of the genocide, when such efforts might 
have had a crucial impact on the policies that were destroying Cam- 
bodia, a fact that might merit some thought. 

The standard U.S. media picture of phase I is something like this. 
"Umil the turning point in 1973, ... on the surface, Cambodians smiled 
and were full of pleasantries, "62 but afterwards the mood of "Cambodi- 
ans" became one of "apathy" and "resignation" because "impoverished 
farmers, refugees and soldiers" (most of whom were press-ganged into 
service from among the poor and refugee communities) felt that their 
"leaders seem powerless to defend them against human and natural 
adversities. "63 There is a "spirit of doom" as the government is "teeter- 


ing on the wreckage of the democratic republic it set out to create" with 
the coup that overthrew Sihanouk. S"* The Americans try, but with little 
success, to "give the Cambodians some sense of confidence in their 
leadership," but, nevertheless, "Cambodian morale has been sliding 
steadily for a long time." However, "Rather than any sense of urgency 
here [in Phnom Penh], there is the grand fatalism that is so much a part 
of Cambodia's Hindu-influenced Buddhism,"65 although it somehow 
does not seem to affect "the enemy," whose "determination" in the face 
of the awesome firepower unleashed against them "baffles" the Ameri- 
cans. But there is still "a feeling that the Americans will save the 
Cambodians at the last minute because they cannot save themselves." 
"Almost every conversation with a Cambodian now is the same," 
namely, fear that the "demoralized army will collapse" when the 
American bombing terminates on August 15. The impending bombing 
cutoff is "painful" to the "Cambodians" because of "the recent steady 
successes of enemy troops" against overwhelming odds. In his final 
summary report from Phnom Penh as the U.S. bombing ended, Sydney 
Schanberg raised "the key unanswered question: How have the insur- 
gents-without any planes of their own, and without the extensive 
artillery support the Government troops have, with only small arms and 
mobile weapons ...-been able not just to match the Government 
forces, which are more than twice their size, but to push the Govern- 
ment forces back and sustain the offensive for six months without any 
significant lull?" "Since the insurgents are not superhuman, there must 
be other explanations for their success." Perhaps they are so "deter- 
mined and capable" because they "are less fatalistic than the Khmers 
on this side" and "believe they can change their environment" (U.S. 
embassy official). In this regard, "the enemy" are quite different from 
"the Cambodian villager," who "usually has no politics" and "is not 
interested in taking sides, only to be left alone to farm and fish and feed 
his family and once in a while to celebrate on a Buddhist holiday. "66 
The civil war, then, pits "the Cambodians" against "the enemy," 
Cambodian peasants who were surely not full ofpleasantries during the 
pre-1973 U.S. bombings. "The Cambodians," fatalistic and resigned, 
either want to be left alone ("the Cambodian villager") or hope that the 
United States will save them and their government, striving for democ- 
racy ("the Cambodians" generally). The enemy struggle on successfully 
against overwhelming odds, baffling the Americans-exactly as Ameri- 
cans building "democracy" have been baffled by the same problem in 
South Vietnam, Central America, and many other places. Since these 
are the conclusions drawn from "almost every conversation with a 
Cambodian," they are surely realistic, at least as long as we understand 


that "Cambodians" are those Cambodians who are not "the enemy" of 
the objective press, just as "South Vietnamese" were South Vietnamese 
collaborating with the U.S. aggressors. 

The framework is the usual one, although perhaps a shade more 
egregious in the light of what might have been passing through the 
minds of those Cambodians who were not "Cambodians" during phase 
I of the genocide. 

About that topic, we learn very little from the media. The refugees 
flooding Phnom Penh and other areas where U.S. reporters traveled 
were virtually ignored. To gain a measure of this remarkable fact, let 
us review the reports during these months in the New York TimeSy most 
of them by its Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent Sydney Schan- 
berg, who, more than any other U.S. reporter, came to be regarded as 
the conscience of the media with regard to Cambodia. 

Schanberg arrived in Phnom Penh in May 1973. at the height of the 
intensified bombing, which continued until the mid- August halt. Dur- 
ing this period, the Times published twenty-seven of his reports from 
Cambodia, many of them long and detailed, along with a column in 
which he expressed his contempt for the "so-called international press 
corps" who spend their time "interviewing each other" in the Hotel Le 

From the outset, Schanberg reports "refugees pouring into the city," 
but there are no interviews with refugees who relate the circumstances 
oflife under the bombs. We hear a "well to do Cambodian woman" who 
tells us that "The bombing is terrible"; she is "not frightened, just 
annoyed-because it wakes my baby up every night in the middle of 
the night, and I have to get up " (May 3). But those villagers who want 
to be left alone are not granted the opportunity to relay their accounts 
of somewhat more serious concerns, apart from a few scattered phrases, 
and there is not a word to suggest that refugees might have had any 
attitude, apart from fear, with regard to those "determined" fighters 
who "believe they can change their environment:' although plainly 
they had a solid base in the peasant society that was being torn to shreds 
by saturation bombing. As in Laos a few years earlier, the refugees 
simply had the wrong tale to tell, and the kinds of stories that readily 
flow if one is sufficiently interested to inquire are lacking here. 

Running through the columns seriatim for relevant material, number 
5 (May II) quotes a Western European diplomat who says that "Ameri- 
can men in American planes are bombing the hell out of this place," 
and notes that the U.S. aircraft "do not always receive accurate an- 
swers" about civilians in the targeted areas "from the Cambodian com- 
manders" who direct the jet fighter-bombers. The Cambodians, then, 


are to blame for the civilian casualties that must result, although "no 

reliable figures are available" and refugees are not asked to supplement 
with their personal knowledge. The next two columns (May 24, 27) are 
the only ones concerned directly with the effect of the bombing in the 
countryside. The first reports "extensive" destruction from bombing 
that has wiped out "a whole series of villages" along the main highway, 
with often not even a piece of a house left standing for miles, while " a 
few people wander forlornly through the rubble, stunned by what has 
happened, skirting the craters, picking at the debris." A group ofvillag- 
ers from Svay Rieng Province) abutting Vietnam) report the destruction 
of seven villages) with many killed. "The frightened villagers uprooted 
by the bombing have a great deal to say," Schanberg comments, but we 
do not read it here. Rather, he explains that "There is no doubt that 
the Seventh Air Force is making a marked effort to avoid civihan 
casualties-at least outside the eastern third of the country, which is 
solidly held by the enemy"; and if there are casualties it is the fault of 
Cambodian military officials who request air strikes with "almost no 
concern about civilian lives or property." The second column informs 
us that "the refugees frequently tell about the bombing," which has 
destroyed villages and "terrified all the rest of the villagers)" a Western 
diplomat reports. But the refugees are granted only two phrases, an 
"incongruously polite" request that "I would be very glad if the Gov- 
ernment would stop sending the planes to bomb," and a plea from a 
monk to ask the United States and other governments: "Don't destroy 
everything in Cambodia." 

We hear no more from the refugees until column 15 (July 26), a 
graphic account of "a terror attack on the civilian population "-by 
Communist forces who shelled the outskirts of Phnom Penh. A weeping 
child describes how her little brother's hand was cut off, and the blood- 
stained road and doorsteps testify to Communist barbarity, as distinct 
from the operations of the scrupulous American command. Column 19 
(Aug. 5) tells of thousands of new refugees "fleeing from enemy as- 
ssuhSy" and column 21 (Aug. 7) describes Cambodian soldiers looting 
a recaptured village that "looked as if struck by a storm with a tongue 
of fire," with many houses "smashed in by shells," but no word from 
the victims, who had fled. Then follow three columns (Aug. 7, 9, 12) 
describing in extensive detail the bombing of the village of Neak 
Luong-in error-killing many government soldiers and their families. 
This is the sole example of American bombing that was shown in the 
film The Killing Fields^ the only depiction there of phase I of the 
genocide) a memory that is acceptable since it was plainly an error. 

We located eighteen additional reports datelined Cambodia) from 



March 25 through August 18. ° One quotes a villager who says "The 
bombers may kill some Communists but they kill everyone else, too" 
(Browne, April II), but we found no other examples of reactions by the 
victims, although there is a picture of a Cambodian soldier weeping for 
his wife and ten children killed in the bombing ofNeak Luong by error 
(Aug. 10). 

In forty-five columns, then, there are three in which victims of U.S. 
bombing are granted a few phrases to describe what is happening to 
Cambodia. Not a single column seeks to explore the reactions of the 
refugees not far from the Hotel Le Phnom, or in Banambang, or in the 
far more miserable refugee camps in the countryside nearby; or to 
attempt to develop some sense of what must have been happening 
under the frenzied bombing of these months. Recall that in Phnom 
Penh alone there were almost 1.5 million refugees who had fled from 
the countryside, some, surely, who must have had some information to 
relate about phase I of the genocide at its peak. The reader could no 
doubt ascertain that terrible things were happening in the Cambodian 
countryside, but what they were remains obscure, and the Americans 
are explicitly exonerated, apart from the error of bombing the wrong 

The story remained much the same as phase I of the genocide 
continued. The horrors in Phnom Penh itself were sometimes vividly 
descjibcd, primarily abroad,69 but there was little effort to determine 
what was happening in the areas held by the enemy of the U.S. govern- 
ment-hence the enemy of the U.S. press; virtually the entire country 
as "the Cambodians" were confined to urban centers swelled by a huge 
flood of refugees who remain as hidden from view as those in the 
teeming slums of Saigon or the camps around Vientiane. 

Western correspondents evacuated from Phnom Penh after the 
Khmer Rouge victory were able to obtain a fleeting picture of what had 
taken place in the countryside. British correspondent Jon Swain sum- 
marizes his impressions as follows: 

The United States has much to answer for here, not only in terms 
of human Uves and massive material destruction; the rigidity and 
nastiness of the un-Cambodian like fellows in black who run this 
country now, or what is left of it, are as much a product of this 
wholesale American bombing which has hardened and honed their 
minds as they are a product of Marx and Mao. . . . [The mass 
evacuation of the cities] does not constitute a deliberate campaign 
of terror, rather it points to poor organisation, lack of vision and 
the brutalisation of a people by a long and savage war The 


war damage here {in the countryside], as everywhere else we saw, 
is total. Not a bridge is standing, hardly a house. I am told most 
villagers have spent the war years living semi-permanently under- 
ground in earth bunkers to escape the bombing. . . . The entire 
countryside has been churned up by American B-52 bomb craters, 
whole towns and villages razed. So far I have not seen one intact 
pagoda. ''° 

The conditions are much like those reported in 1970 by refugees from 
the Plain of Jars, in Laos; in both cases, these accounts were almost 
entirely excluded from the mainstream media. 

So ended phase I of the genocide. In later years, those who had 
transmitted narrowly selected fragments of this tale of horror expressed 
their bitterness that Cambodia had been "forgotten." On the tenth 
anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover, Sydney Schanberg wrote 
two columns in the New York Times entitled "Cambodia Forgotten." 
The first highlights the phrase: "Superpowers care as little today about 
Cambodians as in 1970," the second dismisses Richard Nixon's 1985 
claim that there was no "indiscriminate terror bombing" but only 
"highly accurate" strikes "against enemy military targets." Schanberg 
comments that "Anyone who visited the refugee camps in Cambodia 
and talked to the civiHan survivors of the bombing learned quickly 
about the substantial casualties." He recalls that "the Khmer Rouge 
were a meaningless force when the war was brought to Cambodia in 

1970 In order to flourish and grow, they needed a war to feed on. 

And the superpowers-including this country, with the Nixon incur- 
sion of 1970 and the massive bombing that folio wed-pro vided that war 
and that nurturing material." He does not, however, inform us about 
which superpower, apart from "this country," invaded Cambodia and 
subjected it to massive bombing. With comparable even-handedness we 
might deplore the contribution of the superpowers, including the 
USSR, to the destruction of Afghanistan, or the attitude of the great 
powers, including Nazi Germany, toward the victims of the death 
camps, whom Schanberg brings up in a later column the same month 
entitled "Memory is the Answer." He also does not comment on what 
the reader of his columns might have learned about life in the Cambo- 
dian countryside from his reporting during the peak period of the 

Others too stress that "memory is the answer." Commenting on the 
award-winning film The Killing Fields, Samuel Freedman writes that 
"While Holocaust survivors have helped perpetuate the memory of 
Nazi infamy, the Cambodian genocide is already being forgotten," 


referring to phase II of the genocide, phase I having passed into obliv- 
ion wih no concern. The New York Times reminds us that "Cambodia 
remains perhaps the most pitiful victim of the Indochina wars," as it 
is caught between the forces of Pol Pot and Hanoi, which used Pol Pot 
attacks against Vietnamese villages as "a long-sought pretext to invade" 
and now exploits "Po] Pot's Khmer Rouge army of 30,ooo inside Cam- 
bodia" (in fact, mostly inside Thailand) as "the pretext for remaining 
in Cambodia." "Unimaginable slaughter, invasion, brutal occupation 
have followed famine and pestilence," all attributable to the Commu- 
nists, although the suffering has been "aggravated by the cynicism of 
big powers," not further differentiated. As for the United States, 
"When Vietcong guerrillas used a neutral Cambodia as a sanctuary, it 
was pounded by American bombs and drawn into a war it hoped to 
avoid," but that is aU. In a later comment, the editors concede that 
"murderous aerial bombing followed by brutal revolution, famine and 
civil war" brought Cambodia to ruin, but of aU of this, "what cannot 
be sponged away are the Khmer Rouge's butcheries" and the actions 
of Hanoi, which has "subjugated and impoverished" Cambodia: phases 
II and III of "the decade of the genocide."73 

"Memory is the answer," but only when focused on proper targets, 
far from home. 

6.2.6. The Pol Pot era 

Phase II of "the decade of the genocide" began with the Khmer Rouge 
takeover in April 1975. Within a few weeks, the Khmer Rouge were 
accused in the national press of "barbarous cruelty" and "genocidal 
policies" comparable to the "Soviet extermination of the Kulaks or 
with the Gulag Archipelago. "74 This was at a time when the death toll 
was perhaps in the thousands; the half million or more killed during 
phase I of the genocide never merited such comment, nor were these 
assessments of the fiist days of phase II (or later ones, quite generally) 
accompanied by reflection on the consequences of the American war 
that were anticipated by U.S. officials and relief workers on the scene, 
reviewed earlier, or by any recognition of a possible causal link between 
the horrors of phase II and the American war against the rural society 
during phase 1. 

We win not document here the flood of rage and anger directed 
against the Khmer Rouge from the outset and the evidence on which 
it was based, having done so elsewhere in detail. Several facts docu- 
mented there bear emphasis: (I) the outrage, which was instant and 


overwhelming, peaked in early 1977 and, until the overthrow of Pol Pot, 
was based almost exclusively on evidence through 1977, primarily 1975- 
76;76 (2) apart from a few knowledgeable journalists, the State Depart- 
ment's Cambodia experts, and probably the majority of the small group 
of Cambodia scholars-that is, most of those with a basis for judg- 
ment-the most extreme accusations were adopted and proclaimed 
with a great show of indignation over Communist atrocities, the integ- 
rity of which can be measured by comparison to the reaction to phase 
I of the genocide and U.S. responsibility for it; (3) these skeptical 
assessments, almost entirely suppressed in the media, proved fairly 
accurate for the period in question; (4) the evidence that provided the 
crucial basis for the denunciations of Communist genocide was of a 
kind that would have been dismissed with derision had something of 
the sort been offered with regard to phase I of the genocide or other 
U.S. atrocities, including faked interviews and photographs and fab- 
ricated statements anributed to Khmer Rouge officials, constantly re- 
peated even after they had been conceded to be frauds; fabricated 
casualty estimates based on misquoted studies that became unquestion- 
able doctrine even after they were publicly withdrawn as inventions; 
and highly selective refugee reports that ignored much refugee testi- 
mony, including detailed studies by Cambodia scholars, that could not 
be exploited for what soon became a propaganda campaign at a level 
of deceit of astonishing proportions.^'' 

As we also noted from the first paragraph of our earlier review of this 
material, to which we wiU simply refer here for specifics, "there is no 
difficulty in documenting major atrocities and oppression, primarily 
from the reports of refugees"; there is little doubt that "the record of 
atrocities in Cambodia is substantial and often gruesome" and repre- 
sents "a fearful toll"; "when the facts are in, it may tum out that the 
more extreme condemnations were in fact correct," although if so, "it 
will in no way alter the conclusions we have reached on the central 
question addressed here: how the available facts were selected, modi- 
fied, or sometimes invented to create a certain image offered to the 
general population. The answer to this question seems clear, and it is 
unaffected by whatever may yet be discovered about Cambodia in the fu- 
ture." As we repeatedly stressed, in this chapter of a two-volume study 
on U.S. policy and ideology, our concern remained the United States, 
not Indochina; our purpose was not to "establish the facts with regard to 
postwar Indochina" on the basis of the evidence available, but rather to 
examine the constructions developed on the basis of this evidence, 
to analyze the way this evidence was refracted "through the prism of 
Western ideology, a very different task."78 The conclusions drawn there 



remain valid. To our knowledge, no error or even misleading statement 
or omission has been found. 

This review of an impressive propaganda exercise aroused great 
outrage-not at all surprisingly: the response within Soviet domains is 
similar, as are the reasons, when dissidents expose propaganda fabrica- 
tions with regard to the United States, Israel, and other official enemies. 
Indignant commentators depicted us as "apologists for Khmer Rouge 
crimes"8°-in a study that denounced Khmer Rouge atrocities (a fact 
always suppressed) and then proceeded to demonstrate the remarkable 
character of Western propaganda, our topic throughout the two-vol- 
ume study in which this chapter appeared. There was also a new wave 
of falsification, often unanswerable when journals refused to permit 
response. We will not review these further propaganda exercises here, 
but merely note that they provide an intriguing expression of what, in 
other contexts, is described as the totalitarian mentality: it is not enough 
to denounce official enemies; it is also necessary to guard with vigilance 
the right to lie in the service of power. The reaction to our challenge 
to this sacred right again fits neady within the expectations of a propa- 
ganda model, standing alongside the Freedom House attack on the 
media for failure to serve state policy with sufficient vigor and opti- 

By early 1977, denunciations of the Khmer Rouge for having caused 
unprecedented "murder in a gentle land" and "autogenocide" extended 
from mass circulation journals such as Reader's Digest (with tens of 
millions of readers) and TV Guide (circulation nineteen million), to the 
New York Revim of Books and the media generally, in addition to a 
best-selling book by John Barron and Anthony Paul based on their 
Reader's Digest article and the widely misquoted study by Francois 
Ponchaud mentioned earlier. Similar material continued to flow in 
abundance in the press and newsweeklies, the New York Times Maga- 
zine, and elsewhere. Evidence about the 1977-78 period became availa- 
ble primarily after the Vietnamese expulsion of the Khmer Rouge 
regime, which brought phase II of the genocide to a close, eliciting new 
outrage over the alleged "genocide" brought about by the "Prussians 
of Asia." 

The picture created by this chorus of denunciation, from the first 
days of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) in 1975, is described sardonically 
by Michael Vickery as "the standard total view" (STV). According to 
the STV, prior to the Khmer Rouge victory in April 1975, Cambodia 
had been a "gentle land" (Barron and Paul) of "gentle if emotional 
people" who "wanted only to live in peace in their lush kingdom" (Jack 
Anderson), a land in which hunger was "almost unknown" (Henry 


Kamm). But in 1975, the "formerly fun-loving, easy-going Cambodi- 
ans" were subjected to the "harsh regime" of the Khmer Rouge, who 
ordered that all those not under their rule before the victory can be 
"disposed of because they are "no longer required," even if only one 
million Khmers remain (Donald Wises, citing several of the frequently 
quoted Khmer Rouge statements that were conceded to be fabrica- 

According to the STV, during the pre- 1977 period on which the 
conclusions were based, the Khmer Rouge leadership was engaged in 
a policy of systematic extermination and destruction of all organized 
social and cultural hfe apart from the Gulag run by the "nine men at 
the top," Paris-trained Communists, without local variation and with 
no cause other than inexplicable sadism and Marxist-Leninist dogma. 
By early 1977, it was alleged that they had "boasted" of having slaugh- 
tered some two million people (Jean Lacouture in the New York Re- 
view). This figure remained the standard even after Lacouture 
withdrew it a few weeks later, acknowledging that he had misread his 
source (Ponchaud) and that the actual figure might be in the thousands, 
but adding that he saw little significance to a difference between thou- 
sands killed and a "boast" of two million killed. This position expresses 
with some clarity the general attitude toward fact during this period and 
since, as does his further statement that it is hardly important to deter- 
mine "exactly which person uttered an inhuman phrase"-the case in 
question had to do with inhuman phrases he attributed to Khmer 
Rouge officials but which turned out to be mistranslations of phrases 
that had been fabricated outright by his source (Ponchaud) or that had 
appeared not in a Cambodian journal, as he asserted, but in a Thai 
journal mistranslated by Ponchaud that expressed virtually the oppo- 
site of what was claimed. The two-million figure was later upgraded to 
three million or more, often citing Vietnamese wartime propaganda. 
The examples are quite typical. 

Not everyone joined in the chorus. The most striking exceptions 
were those who had the best access to information from Cambodia, 
notably, the State Department Cambodia speciahsts. Their view, based 
on what evidence was then available (primarily from northwestern 
Cambodia), was that deaths from aU causes might have been in the 
"tens ifnot hundreds of thousands," largely from disease, malnutrition, 
and "brutal, rapid change," not "mass genocide." These tentative con- 
clusions were almost entirely ignored by the media-we found one 
important exception in our review-because they were simply not use- 
ful for the purpose at the time, just as refugee testimony that did not 
conform to the STY was ignored. Overseas, journalists who had special 


knowledge of Indochina also gave rather nuanced accounts, notably, 
Nayan Chanda.^^ 

In his detailed, region-by-region study, Vickery shows that the STY 
was a picture with little merit, and that the few skeptics had been 
essentially accurate for the period in question, although in 1977-78, 
something approaching the STY came to be correct in the context of 
brutal inter-party purges and the expanding war with Vietnam. He also 
makes the obvious logical point that "the evidence for 1977-78," which 
only became available after the Vietnamese conquest in 1979, "does not 
retrospectively justify the STV" which reigned on the basis of evidence 
from the 1975-76 period; "and the Vietnamese adoption of some of the 
worst Western propaganda stories as support for their case in 1979 does 
not prove that those stories were valid."83 Recent work indicates that 
the worst massacres, including those that left the mass graves and 
horrifying heaps of skulls found by journalists who entered Cambodia 
after the Vietnamese conquest, were in the eastern zone bordering 
Vietnam in mid- to late 1978,** 

The nature of the Western agony over Cambodia during phase 1 1 of 
the genocide, as a sociocultural phenomenon, becomes clarified further 
when we compare it to the reaction to comparable and simultaneous 
atrocities in Timor. There, as in phase I of the Cambodia genocide, the 
United States bore primary responsibility and could have acted to 
reduce or terminate the atrocities. In contrast, in Cambodia under D K 
rule, where the blame could be placed on the official enemy, nothing 
at all could be done, a point that was stressed by government experts 
when George McGovern caned for international intervention in August 
1978, eliciting much media ridicule. Neither McGovern nor anyone 
else recommended such intervention against the United States during 
phase] of the genocide, or against Indonesia and the United States 
during the Timor atrocities, to which the United States (and, to a much 
lesser extent, other powers) lent material and diplomatic support, just 
as there has been no call for intervention as the armies of El Salvador 
and Guatemala proceeded to slaughter their own populations with 
enthusiastic U.S. support in the early 1980s. 

The comparison between Timor and phase 1 1 in Cambodia was 
particularly striking, and was occasionally noted after the fact. The 
excuses now produced for this refusal to report what was happening in 
Timor, or to protest these atiociti&s or act to stop them, are instructive 
in the present context. Thus, William Shawcross rejects the obvious 
interpretation of the comparative response to Timor and Cambodia in 
favor of a "more structurally serious explanation": "a comparative lack 
of sources" and lack of access to refugees/* Lisbon is a two-hour flight 


from London, and even Australia is not notably harder to reach than 
the Thai -Cambodia border, but the many Timorese refugees in Lisbon 
and Australia were ignored by the media, which preferred "facts" 
offered by the State Department and Indonesian generals. Similarly, 
the media ignored readily available refugee studies from sources at least 
as credible as those used as the basis for the ideologically serviceable 
outrage over the Khmer Rouge, and disregarded highly credible wit- 
nesses whQ reached New York and Washington along with additional 
evidence from church sources and others. The coverage of Timor 
actually declined sharply as massacres increased with mounting U.S. 
support. The real and "structurally serious" reason for this difference 
in scope and character of coverage is not difficult to discern (see chapter 
1), although not very comfortable for Western opinion, and becomes 
still more obvious when a broader range of cases is considered that 
illustrate the same conclusions.^^ 

6.2.7. Phase III in Indochina: 
Cambodia and the bleeding of 

As we write in 1987, Western moralists remain silent as their govern- 
ments provide the means for Indonesia to continue its campaign of 
terror and repression in Timor. Meanwhile, the United States backs the 
DK coalition, largely based on the Khmer Rouge, because of its "conti- 
nuity" with the Pol Pot regime, so the State Department informed 
Congress in 1982. The reason for this differential reaction to the Fretilin 
guerrillas resisting Indonesian aggression in Timor, and the Khmer 
Rouge guerrillas attacking Cambodia from Thai bases, is also explained 
by the State Department: the Khmer Rouge-based coalition is 
"unquestionably" more representative of the people of Cambodia than 
Fretilin is of the Timorese. There iSj therefore, no need to puzzle over 
the apparent inconsistency during the late 1970S in U.S. attitudes to- 
ward Pol Pot and the Indonesian generals: the former, the object of 
hatred and contempt for the massacres in Cambodia under his rule 
during phase II; the latter, our friends whom we cheerfully supplied 
and supported as they conducted comparable massacres in Timor at the 
same time. This apparent inconsistency, which briefly troubled even the 
editors of the Wall Street Journal in the early 1980s,89 is now happily 
resolved: we support both the Khmer Rouge and the Indonesian 


The current U.S. support for the Khmer Rouge merits little atten- 
tion in the media, just as little nouce is given to the Vietnamese posi- 
tion: a poJitical settlement among Cambodians excluding Khmer Rouge 
leaders Pol Pot and his close associate leng Sary.9(I As noted earlier, 
U.S. aid to the Khmer Rouge is reported by congressional sources to 
be extensive. Furthermore, the Reagan administration, following "Chi- 
nese rather than Southeast Asian inclinations," has refused to back the 
efforts of its Southeast Asian alhes "to dilute the strength of China's 
ally, the deposed Pol Pot regime, by giving greater weight to non- 
Communist guerrillas and political groupings."'* Nayan Chanda re- 
ported in 1984 that the United States had "more than doubled its 
financial assistance to the resistance forces," mainly through funds 
earmarked for humanitarian assistance that permit U.S. allies to divert 
funds to arms purchases, a familiar ploy .92 While it is claimed that the 
funds are limited to the (generally ineffectual) non-Communist resist- 
ance, this is a shallow pretense. "Both Sihanouk's army and Son Sann's 
KPNLF," the two components of the non-Communist resistance, "are 
completely discounted in Phnom Penh," James Pringle reports from 
Phnom Penh in the Par Eastern Economic Review. '"AU they do is sit 
drinking coca-cola on the border,' said one well-informed Soviet bloc 
diplomat." From the Thai border areas, Barbara Crossette reports that 
"Trucks loaded with men and boys, 150 or 200 at a time, pull away from 
settlements controlled by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and rurcvble into 
Cambodia," where the supplies are carried "into the Cambodian inte- 
rior to stockpile supplies for the Khmer Rouge," in the expectation that 
they wUl be able to prevail by military force and terror once the Viet- 
namese withdraw as demanded by the United States. A spokesman for 
the Sihanoukisr National Army in Bangkok comments that "The main 
problem we now have is how to get the Vietnamese to pull out without 
bringing back the Khmer Rouge," the probable consequence of U.S. 
policy. Fonner Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke com- 
ments that the U.S. aid "will end up going to Pol Pot and his people," 
a fact noted also by several journalists. Sydney Schanberg's Cambodian 
associate Dith Prant whose story of suffering under DK terror was the 
basis for the widely publicized film The Killing Fields and much media 
commentary, found somewhat greater difficulty in reaching the public 
with his view that "Giving U.S. weapons [to the Khmer resistance] is 
like putting gasoline on afire," and is the last thing Cambodia needs. 
David Hawk alleges that "it is common knowledge that Reagan- 
administration political officers and defence attaches from the US Em- 
bassy in Bangkok have visited Khmer Rouge enclaves."9J 

The reasons for supporting the Thai-based OK coalition go beyond 


their "continuity" with the Khmer Rouge regime. A more fundamental 
reason was outlined by our ally Deng Xiaoping in 1979: "It is wise to 
force the Vietnamese to stay in Kampuchea because that way they wiU 
suffer more and more and will not be able to extend their hand to 
Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore."94 This motive of "bleeding Viet- 
nam" to ensure that it does not recover from its victimization at the 
hands of the West has additional advantages. By acting in such a way 
as to enhance suffering and repression in Indochina, we demonstrate 
retrospectively the "benevolence" of our "noble crusade" of earlier 

As we discussed earlier, thft Cambodians were "worthy victims" 
when they were being terrorized by the Khmer Rouge under phase II 
of the genocide> and they achieved this status once again after the 
Vietnamese invasion brought phase II of the genocide to an end, al- 
though with a change in the cast of characters, as the United States 
joined China in support of the Khmer Rouge. After early efforts to 
charge the Vietnamese with "genocide," the condemnation of the offi- 
cial enemy shifted to the terrible acts of "the Prussians of Asia," who 
have "subjugated and impoverished" Cambodia since overthrowing Pol 
Pot, according to the editors of the New York Times. Recall that of all 
the horrors of the past years, including the atrocities of phase I, "what 
cannot be sponged away" are "the Khmer Rouge's butcheries "-evi- 
dently of lesser moment in Washington now that the Pol Pot forces 
qualify as resistance forces under the Reagan doctrine. 

One would be hard pui to find any serious observers of the current 
Cambodian scene who believe that the Vietnamese have reduced Cam- 
bodia to a level below that of the DK period, as these comments imply. 
Rather, among people who are concerned about the people of Cam- 
bodia for themselves and not merely because of their value for propa- 
ganda exercises, few would question that "it is clear that hfe for the 
people is far better now than under Democratic Kampuchea,"95 and 
some Cambodia speciahsts have suggested that the current regime com- 
pares favorably with any of its predecessors. Consistent opponents of 
aggression would have a moral basis for condemning the Vietnamese 
invasion, despite the rapidly escalating atrocities of 1977-78 and the 
murderous raids against Vietnam by Cambodian forces under Pol Pot's 
rule.** It is a little difficult to take this argument seriously, however, 
when it is put forth by people who condemn the West for not having 
undertaken more vigorous actions to "rescue" the Cambodians from 
Pol Pot- a "rescue" that would have been no less self-serving in intent 
than the Viecnamese invasion, as history makes clear. And we need not 
tarry over the argument when it is offered by those who tolerate or 


applaud murderous aggression when it suits their ends: the Indonesian 
invasion of Timor, the "liberation" of Lebanon by Israeli forces in 1982 
(as the Times editors called it), or the "defense of South Vietnam," to 
mention a few obvious cases. 

6.2.8. Phase III at home: the great 
silence and the hidden potency of 

the left 

Turning to the home front, phase III illustrates the expectations of a 
propaganda model in yet a different way. The truth about the response 
to the Pol Pot atrocities in the media and "the culture" in general, and 
the dramatic contrast to comparable examples where the United States 
bears primary responsibility, is not pleasant to contemplate. Since the 
facts are too overwhelming to refute, it is a better strategy simply to 
dispatch them to the memory hole. This task having been achieved with 
the customary alacrity, we may now observe with wonder that "The 
West awoke to the suffering of Kampuchea in autumn, 1979" (William 
Shawcross), and then go on to ruminate about the curious inability of 
the West, always consumed with self-flagellation, to perceive the atroci- 
ties of its enemies.*' And so matters have proceeded in the latest phase 
of the sad tale of Cambodia. 

"There was silence in the mid-1970s during the mass murders by the 
Khmer Rouge" (Floyd Abrams), and "The atrocity stories coming out 
of Cambodia after 1975 quite simply were not believed" (David 
Hawk)-at a time when accusations of genocide of the Hitler-Stalin 
variety were resounding from the New York Times and Washington Post 
to the Reader's Digest and TV Guide to the New York Review ofBO<Jks, 
and the mass media extensively. "The West woke up to the horror of 
what had happened only after the Vietnamese invasion" (Economist)' 
and "hardly anyone outside, on Left or Right, had noticed [the horrors 
of the Pol Pot regime] at the time they were actually going on (1975- 
1978)" (Conor Cruise 0'Brien)-that is, at the time when Jimmy Carter 
branded Pol Pot "the world's worst violator of human rights," and a 
British Foreign Office report condemned the regime for the death of 
"many hundreds of thousands of people."'^ One might imagine that 
such outlandish claims could not pass without a raised eyebrow at least, 
but that is to underestimate the ability of the ideological institutions to 
rally to a worthy cause: in this case, the cause of suppressing the truth 


about the Western response to "the decade of the genocide" and other 

That there was "silence" over Pol Pot atrocities was also an insistent 
claim right at the peak of the bitter outrage over Pol Pot genocide. Time 
magazine published a major article by David Aikman on July 31, 1978, 
claiming that the Khmer Rouge "experiment in genocide" was being 
ignored, and adding a new twist that was also taken up with enthusiasm 
in the subsequent reconstruction of history: "there are intellectuals in 
the West so committed to the twin Molochs ofour day-'liberation' and 
'revolution'-that they can actually defend what has happened in Cam- 
bodia"; "some political theorists have defended it, as George Bernard 
Shaw and other Western intellectuals defended the brutal social engi- 
neering in the Soviet Union during the 1930s." Noone was mentioned, 
for the simple reason that no one could be found to fit the bill, although 
Time did vainly attempt to elicit positive statements about the Pol Pot 
regime from antiwar activists to buttress this useful thesis. 

Each of these themes-the "silence" of the West, the defense of Pol 
Pot by Western intellectuals-is unequivocally refuted by massive evi- 
dence that is well known, although ignored, by the mobilized intellec- 
tual culture. But this level of misrepresentation in the service of a noble 
cause still does not suffice. The two themes were combined by William 
Shawcross in an inspired agitprop achievement that carried the farce 
a step further. 99 This new contribution evoked much enthusiasm; sev- 
eral of the comments just cited are from reviews of his book, or are 
obviously inspired by it. 

In his study of "Cambodia, Holocaust and Modern Conscience," 
Shawcross muses on the relative "silence" of the West in the face of 
Khmer Rouge atrocities. The facts are radically different, but the idea 
that the West ignores Communist atrocities while agonizing over its 
own is far more appealing to the Western conscience. Shawcross then 
proceeds to adopt Aikman's second thesis, applying it in an ingenious 
way to explain the mechanism that hes behind this unwillingness of the 
West to face up to Communist atrocities, so notable a feature of West- 
em life. The silence over phase 1 1 of the genocide, he argues, resulted 
from "the skepticism (to use a mild term) displayed by the Western left 
toward the stories coming OUt of Democratic Kampuchea. That skepti- 
cism was most fervently and frequently expressed by Noam Chomsky 
. . ., [who] asserted that from the moment of the Khmer Rouge victory 
in 1975 the Western press colluded with Western and anti-Communist 
Asian governments, notably Thailand, to produce a 'vast and unprece- 
dented' campaign of propaganda against the Khmer Rouge. "100 



To buttress this claim, Shawcross provides what purports to be a 
quote-but without citing an identifiable source, for two good reasons. 
First, the quote does not exist,101 although even his version undermines 
his basic claim, with its reference to "the grim reality" of Cambodia 
under Khmer Rouge rule. Second, the source of the manufactured 
quote is a work published in November 1979, almost a year after the 
fall of the Pol Pot regime. To cite the date would have raised the 
question of how this "fervent and frequent" expression of skepticism 
could have intimidated governments and the media from 1975 through 
1978. Furthermore, we made it crystal clear that the record of atrocities 
was "gruesome," perhaps even at the level of the most outlandish 

Note that Shawcross could have cited real examples of "skepticism"; 
for example, the skepticism of State Department analysts at the height 
of the furor over Cambodia, or the retrospective comments of Douglas 
Pike and others cited earlier (pp. 265-66), or the comments of journal- 
ists during phase II who were willing to conclude only that refugee 
accounts "suggest that the Khmer Rouge is finding it hard to govern 
the country except by coercion" and "even suggest that terror is being 
employed as a system of government," noting that refugees "did not 
appear to be in a sorry condition" and that if the Khmer Rouge are 
perpetrating an "atrocity," as claimed, then "the atrocity did not begin 
in April [1975J-it simply entered its sixth year" (William Shaw- 
cross).102 But the truth plainly would not have served the purposes of 
this exercise. 

Perhaps there was some other example of this "fervent and frequent" 
expression of skepticism that silenced the West. Shawcross is wise to 
avoid examples, because as he knows well, his primary source, Pon- 
chaud, went out of his way to praise Chomsky for "the responsible 
attitude and precision of thought" shown in what he had written on 
Cambodia, referring to our 1977 review of his book cited earlier and 
unpublished correspondence he had seen, which exhausts anything 
relevant that appears during the DK period. So Shawcross would 
have us believe that a single 1977 article in The Nation silenced the 
West, an article in which, furthermore, we praised the book written by 
his primary source, Ponchaud, as "serious and worth reading," with its 
"grisly account of what refugees have reported to him about the bar- 
barity of their treatment at the hands of the Khmer Rouge," and stated 
that we are in no position to draw any conclusion about the actual 
extent of the atrocities, in conformity to State Department specialists 
and other informed sources at the time. 

To be clear, in our one article, to which Ponchaud alludes, we did 


express some "skepticism," not only about claims that had already been 
withdrawn as fabrications but also about others that remained to be 
assessed. Thus in reviewing Ponchaud, we expressed skepticism about 
his estimate of casualties caused by American bombing, which appeared 
to us excessive and possibly based on misinterpretation of figures he 
cited; and we raised questions about some of the quotes attributed to 
the Khmer Rouge on which he (and later others) crucially relied, but 
which he had presented in very different forms on different occasions- 
and which he later conceded to have no basis whatsoever. los It is 
noteworthy that our skepticism about charges against the United 
States, although based mereJy on suspicion, has elicited no comment, 
while our skepticism about charges against the Khmer Rouge, which 
was based on textual evidence and, as it later turned out, was much 
understated, has aroused great fury in what Vickery describes as "in- 
competent, even dishonest" and "often scurrilous" commentary.106 
The differential reaction is easily explained. It is taken for granted that 
U.S. actions must be recounted with scrupulous care and in nuanced 
manner, so our insistence on this is simply what is to be expected, 
meriting no comment. (We agree.) In contrast, the acts of official ene- 
mies merit no such scruples, and it is an unforgivable crime to question 
propaganda exercises undertaken in the service of power. 

Notice that even had the "skepticism" of "the Western left" to which 
Shawcross alludes existed to any significant degree, the idea that this 
could have the consequences he describes, coming from people sys- 
tematically barred from the media and mainstream discussion, is a 
construction of such audacity that one must admire its creator. Shaw- 
cross argues further that this alleged "left-wing skepticism" not only 
silenced Western media and governments but also prevented any mean- 
ingful Western response to Khmer Rouge atrocities. This thesis is too 
ludicrous to merit comment, and we can assess Shawcross's seriousness 
in advancing it by turning to his own proposals at the time as to what 
could be done, recalling that he had easy access to the mainstream 
media throughout. We find not a word suggesting what might be 
done '"''-for the simple reason that neither he nor anyone else could 
think of anything useful. The situation was, of course, quite different 
during phase I of the genocide, or with regard to Timor during phase 
II and since, and in innumerable other cases where Shawcross's charge 
would indeed be vahd. We learn a good deal about "holocaust and the 
modem conscience" by observing this exercise and the reaction it 

Shawcross attributes this "left-wing skepticism," which had such 
awesome consequences because of the influence of the left on Western 


institutions, in part to Vietnamese propaganda. Vietnam's "spokesmen 
had undercut the refugee stories about Khmer Rouge conduct," he 
writes, "thus adding to disbelief in them, particularly on the Western 
left, "108 which naturally takes its cues from Hanoi and closely parrots 
its doctrines, according to approved dogma- although it is interesting 
that Shawcross also insinuates that the influence of Hanoi extended 
beyond its acolytes. And why not? If we have reached the point of 
claiming that the Western left silenced the media and governments, 
why not proceed to maintain that even outside these dangerous circles, 
Vietnamese propaganda is a powerful force in shaping opinion? Natu- 
rally Shawcross does not make even a pretense of providing any evi- 
dence for what he knows perfectly well to be the sheerest fantasy, from 
beginning to end. 

We may place this outlandish explanation of the "silence" of the 
West alongside the similar claims that State Department Communists 
lost China, that the media are threatening the foundations of democ- 
racy with their "adversarial stance," etc. The reaction, however, was 
not ridicule, but rather great enthusiasm. To cite just one typical exam- 
ple, David Hawk observes that Shawcross "attributes the world's indif- 
ference" to "the influence of antiwar academics and activists on the 
American left who obfuscated Khmer Rouge behavior, denigrated the 
post-1975 refugee reports and denounced the journalists who got those 
stories. "109 He accepts this thesis as valid but cites no evidence either 
for the "indifference" to the atrocities, which were being denounced 
worldwide as genocidal, or for the alleged behavior of the American 
left, nor does he explain the mechanisms whereby this behavior, had 
it existed, could have controlled the mainstream media, or even margin- 
ally influenced them. Convenient mythologies require neither evidence 
nor logic. Nor do they require any attention to Hawk's own perform- 
ance at the time, as an Amnesty International official and specialist on 
Southeast Asia. The Al Annual Report for 1977 noted that the number 
of alleged executions in Cambodia was "fewer than during the preced- 
ing year," and while it summarizes a number of reports of executions 
and disappearances, its account is restrained. The 1978 Annual Report, 
while stronger in its allegations of violence, pointed out that refugee 
reports, on which it was necessary to rely heavily, "are often imprecise 
or conflicting," thus leaving Al and Hawk in the Shawcross-Hawk 
category of those who "denigrated the post-1975 refugee reports." It is 
so easy to moralize in retrospect. 

Shawcross develops his thesis further in interesting ways.UO To show 
that Western commentators refused to recognize that "the Khmer 
Rouge was a Marxist-Leninist government," he states that British jour- 


natist John Pilger "constantly compared" the Khmer Rouge with the 
Nazis, suppressing the fact that he explicitly compared their actions 
with "Stalin's terror," as Pilger noted in a response to one of the many 
reviews that repeated Shawcross's inventions. 1 1 1 Shawcross claims fur- 
ther that the present authors "were to believe for years" that "the 
refugees were unreliable, that the CIA was cooking up a bloodbath to 
say, 'We told you so.'" He cites our one article (The Nation, 1977), in 
which there is no hint of any such thesis, as there is none elsewhere. 
In that article we were clear and explicit, as also subsequently, that 
refugee reports left no doubt that the record of Khmer Rouge atrocities 
was "substantial and often gruesome," and that "in the case of Cam- 
bodia, there is no difficulty in documenting major atrocities and oppres- 
sion, primarily from the reports of refugees." 112 To support his 
contention with regard to our alleged denial of the rehability of re- 
fugees, Shawcross cites our comment on the need to exercise care in 
analyzing refugee reports, carefully suppressing the fact that we are 
quoting Ponchaud, his primary source, and that the comment he cites 
is a familiar truism. His reference to the CIA cooking up a bloodbath 
is pure fantasy, although we might add that by the time he wrote, 
although after our book appeared, Michael Vickery did present evi- 
dence that the Barron-Paul Reader's Digest account was in part a CIA 
disinformation effort. I n Shawcros$ states further his view, "contrary to 
Chomsky and Herman," that the U.S. government was "remarkably 
inactive" in anti-Khmer Rouge propaganda. We proposed no U.S. 
government role whatsoever in orchestrating the deceit we docu- 
mented, by William Shawcross and others, and in fact endorsed State 
Department reports as the most plausible then available. And so on, 

But Shawcross and others who are deeply offended by our challenge 
to the right to Ue in the service of one's favored state understand very 
well that charges against dissident opinion require no evidence and that 
ideologically useful accusations wiU stand merely on the basis of end- 
less repetition, however ludicrous they may be-even the claim that the 
American left silenced the entire West during the Pol Pot period. 

Shawcross's charges against other enemies follow the same pattern- 
another factor, presumably, in the appeal of his message. Thus in 
pursuit of his fashionable quest to attribute primary responsibility for 
the continuing tragedy of Cambodia to Vietnam, not to those who were 
responsible for phase I of the genocide with their "careless" pohcies 
and who are now supporting Pol Pot, Shawcross rationalizes the cur- 
rent support for Pol Pot as a natural response to Vietnamese actions. 
Given Hanoi's invasion of Cambodia and subsequent conduct, he ex- 


plains, China and the ASEAN countries of Southeast Asia (not to speak 
of their "Western partners") were bound "to seek to apply all possible 
forms of pressure upon Hanoi" to renounce its intentions, and "the 
Vietnamese could have predicted that such pressures would include 
support for the Khmer Rouge." Thus the Vietnamese are to blame if 
China and the United States support Pol Pot, along with such dedicated 
advocates of human rights and the strict reliance on peaceful means as 
Indonesia and Thailand. Such analysis is, however, not extended to the 
Vietnamese, who are always carrying out cold-blooded strategies in a 
world without threats from China or the United States, threats that 
might allow us to "predict" (and thus implicitly exonerate) these strate- 
gies. According to Shawcross, "Vietnam's conduct since its invasion of 
Cambodia rarely suggested that it wished to see a compromise in which 
the Khmer Rouge were removed as a viable force in Cambodia-which 
was what the ASEAN countries and their Western partners insisted was 
their aim." "It is impossible to predict whether any such suggestion 
[from Hanoi] would have been accepted by the Chinese or the ASEAN 
countries, but the point is that it was never made," Shawcross asserts 
without qualification. "4 Hanoi has repeatedly offered to withdraw in 
favor of an indigenous regime, the only condition being the exclusion 
of the top Khmer Rouge leadership. Whether these offers were serious 
or not, we do not know, as they have been dismissed by the Deng- 
Reagan alliance and, with more vacillation, the ASEAN countries. 
These rejections, in favor of continued support for Pol Pot, have not 
been featured in the media, which would hardly surprise a rational 
observer. But these facts are hardly supportive of Shawcross's analysis, 
to say the least. 

In a further effort to cast the blame on the approved enemy, Shaw- 
cross asserts that the Vietnamese "placed more confidence in the tor- 
turers than in their victims, that many of those people were actually 
being promoted by the new order into positions of new authority over 
them." As his sale evidence, he cites a story, told twice in his book, 
about an old woman he met in Cambodia "who described with great 
passion how the Khmer Rouge murderer of her son was hving, unpun- 
ished, in the neighboring village." He repeated the same story in the 
New York Reviev) of Books, eliciting a letter from Ben Kiernan, who 
accompanied him when this alleged incident took place (and was his 
interpreter). Kiernan cited the tape of the woman's statement, which 
reveals that she had simply said that the murderer had "run away" to 
a neighboring "district," suggesting, as Kiernan notes, that he feared 
punishment, but not that he had been "promoted" to "new authority." 
Confronted with this evidence, Shawcross maintained his position 


while retreating to the claim that some officials he met "seemed rather 
unpleasant," which suffices to prove the point, according to his logic. 
These examples are quite typical."^ 

6.2.9. Summary 

Summarizing, prior tQ "the decade of the genocide," media treatment 
of Cambodia was as predicted by the propaganda model, and the same 
is true, quite dramatically, during the two phases of this terrible period 
aod since. During phase I, refugee testimony was considered uninter- 
esting, and little is known today apart from the fact that there was 
obviously vast slaughter and destruction; this phase does not enter the 
record as a "holocaust" or exercise in "genocide," and the source is 
forgotten. During phase II, the myth ofthe "gentle land" was extended 
through 1975, and the U.S. role and responsibility for what then took 
place was also quite commonly effaced, although some did not sink to 
this level of vulgarity. Refugee testimony was eagerly sought, although 
only if it lent support to the STV, and evaluations by State Department 
specialists and other knowledgeable commentators that gave a more 
nuanced (and in retrospect, essentially accurate) picture were dismissed 
as lacking utility. There was massive outrage, reaching its peak in early 
1977 when the death toll was still well below that of phase I, with a 
record of deception that is highly illuminating. 117 As something like the 
STV came to be realized in 1977-78, its horrors were downplayed in 
official government circles, and subsequent U.S. support for Pol Pot 
arouses little notice. 

Phase III proceeded along a dual course. In a fanciful reconstruction 
that maintains the level of integrity shown throughout, it is alleged that 
"left-wing skepticism" so dominated Western opinion and governments 
that there was "silence" throughout the DK period; the wide accept- 
ance of this thesis, despite the quality of the evidence provided and its 
manifest absurdifj'j counts as yet another example of how readily the 
most implausible contentions can become doctrine, as long as they are 
serviceable. In Indochina, a new phase of Western concern about the 
victimization of Cambodia began, with outrage now directed not 
against Pol Pot but against the new oppressors who overthrew him. The 
United States took a leading role in orchestrating the new concern, 
which combined Chinese and U.S. interest in "bleeding Vietnam" with 
a renewed exhibition of the Western conscience, properly bounded to 
exclude phase I and its long-term effects, and bypassing the U.S. role 
in support of Pol Pot-in part via its Chinese allies, who have been 


admirably frank in explaining their stand. This carefully channeled 
benevolence succeeded in the goal of keeping the Pol Pot forces active 
and injuring Vietnam and also, incidentally, the suffering people of 
Cambodia who are the objects of our profound concern. The relief 
effort in 1979-80 did succeed in aiding Cambodians in distress, but it 
has also sustained the Pol Pot forces and thereby impeded Cambodia's 
recovery and, perhaps, its independence, although about this we can 
only speculate. 

Putting aside the undoubtedly sincere reactions of many people who 
were exposed to evidence of properly selected atrocities that passed 
through the media filter, the only rational conclusion from this il- 
luminating record is that the West was consumed with horror over 
Khmer Rouge atrocities during phase II not because of a sudden pas- 
sion for the fate of the suffering people of Cambodia-as the record 
during phase I, and elsewhere, makes sufficiently clear-but because 
the Khmer Rouge had a useful role to play: namely, to permit a retro- 
spective justification for earlier French and American crimes in Indo- 
china, and to facilitate the reconstruction of Western ideology after the 
Vietnam trauma, so as to overcome the dread "Vietnam syndrome" and 
prepare the ground for a "resurgent America" pursuing its historical 
vocation of defending freedom and justice. The actual facts were, and 
remain, of little interest, for the same reason. 

c 7 


become too independent and too powerful for the public good, Anthony 
Lewis of the New York Times writes that 

The press is protected [by the First A